With summer fast approaching and the threat of bushfires intensifying, there’s no time like the present to implement some simple yet highly effective life-saving precautions.
According to Inspector Ben Shepherd from Rural Fire Service NSW, an easy first step is to reduce the amount of potential fuel surrounding or over-hanging your house.
“Trim any overhead branches hanging over your roof, because that’s what tends to drop flammable leaves on your roof,” he says. “Also ensure that the grass around your home is well mowed and well maintained. That’ll create a cleared area that will not only help you during a fire event, but will also help fire fighters to protect your home as it gives them a clear area to work from. Although it’ll depend on your property, try and go for at least a few metres around the entire house. That’ll give you the best chance of surviving a fire event.”
With more homes lost through ember attack than through actual main fire fronts, removing flammable material from around your house (such as winter woodpiles or garden bed bark chips placed right up against the side of your house) is also important.
“Of course, also make sure you clear leaves and debris from your gutters, because we know that’s where many homes are susceptible to fire,” says Inspector Shepherd. “And make sure you have a hose that reaches the whole way around your home. This will enable you to access any part of it that might be on fire. But most importantly, discuss in advance what you’re going to do in the event of a fire threat. Prepare that bushfire survival plan early, so you know what you and your family will do.”
Importantly, bush fire preparation can also extend to actual home design and construction. Justin Leonard, research leader for Bushfire Urban Design at CSIRO, says eliminating burning ember access is a key area demanding serious attention.
Clear leaves and debris from your gutters, including on the roof. Photo: Stocksy
“While a slab-on-ground construction is the best for eliminating the possibility of embers igniting under a house, a similar effect can be achieved by fully enclosing or cladding the sub-floor or underside of your house,” he explains.
“Fully enclosing it means there’s no opportunity for embers to start a fire under the house by igniting combustible bearers, exposed timber or particle board floorboards.”
Leonard says that gap management is also critical when it comes to denying access to burning embers.
“Any gap in your house that’s larger than two-millimetres is an entry point for embers to get into your living spaces or cavities within the house where they can find other fuels that have built up and start to burn the house from within,” he says. “These could be gaps around windows or doors, gaps between roof tiles, or gaps where metal roof sheets end or start. The place where your roof meets your eaves is another really obvious one because you can often get your hand in there. Any such gaps have to be eliminated.”
Leonard says one option is to replace a tiled roof with a sheet metal alternative.
“If you do opt for sheet metal, how you finish it at the gutter and ridge lines is critical,” he says. “If you do it correctly, you can certainly achieve an ember-proof roof cavity that will contribute to your home’s resistance to ember attack.”
Eliminating readily burnable surfaces from the exterior of your home is also advisable.
“Something like rough-sawn western red cedar cladding is one of those ideal things that embers can directly adhere to and start to burn,” says Leonard. “Going for a non-combustible external cladding is a far better option.”