Fire is an ongoing problem in most parts of Australia during the warm, dry months, but particularly so after good seasons where spring rains have produced abundant growth and in very hot dry summers where the vegetation becomes tinder dry.
Unfortunately, extremes in weather are becoming more common, meaning that we must adapt our risk management strategies to assist us to minimise the occurrence and / or damage from these inevitable events.
Here are some essential steps for farmers and small landholders in prefire season:
- Have a plan in place for fire risk days, make sure everyone on the property is aware of it and regularly revisit the plan with family and staff to keep it at the forefront of everyones mind.
- Have clear understanding of trigger events that will decide (early) whether to stay or to leave on fire risk days, the tasks that each individual should carryout in each scenario (stay or leave), as well as the trigger for family, contractors, or employees to leave the property.
- Property can be replaced, lives cant & if in doubt, plan to leave early.
- Don’t forget to plan for contingencies such as what to arrange if the kids are at school, or someone is away from the farm. (who takes over their duties?).
- Make sure your firefighting equipment is ready and has been tested to make sure its running fine.
- Conduct drills with your staff to ensure they know how to operate the equipment.
- Have all emergency contact numbers programmed into speed dial on your mobile phone and carry it at all times. If there is a weak phone signal, or no signal in the area that you will be working in, make sure you have UHF connection with home base.
- Plan not to undertake specific activities, such as grinding, welding, mowing and reaping (to name a few) on higher risk days.
Fuel Loads and Stocks
Fuel is any combustible material, such as hay, feed, fertilizer or dry grass or brush. Fires cannot burn where there is no fuel. It is important to make sure there is an area of reduced fuel around houses, sheds and other assets thereby minimising the threat of fire. Leaves, twigs, grass and bark burn quickly, allowing the fire to flare up.
Create a heavily grazed area where stock can be moved on fire risk days or during a bushfire and maintain slashed or mown fuel breaks to a width of at least three metres around these paddocks.
Conduct a stock take of feed, animals and fencing before the fire season and keep a copy of records off your property, along with any other important documents, computer files, photos etc.
Permits and Laws
Check with your council what local laws, bylaws and regulations are in place for lighting fires, burning off, or using incinerators.
Apply for a schedule 13 permit from your local council if you intend to burn off weeds, stubble or vegetation
during the FDP, or a schedule 14 permit If you intend to use fire for other purposes and reassess the conditions prior to lighting. Conditions can change very quickly, so plan to have more than the minimum legal precautions in the way of firefighting equipment, on hand.
Vehicles, Equipment and Hay
Check that spark arrestors on machinery are working effectively and efficiently. Do a safety check on all equipment to ensure they are free from faults.
Have water fire extinguishers available that can be carried by any person using farm equipment or machinery and remind them to regularly check around and behind them for signs of fire.
Make sure hay is fully cured before bailing and regularly test hay stacks for high moisture levels.
Try not to store farm machinery in the same shed with hay, straw or other highly combustible materials.
Make sure there are no gaps between the cladding and the ground or slab of your sheds to prevent embers getting inside.
Clean gutters, clear buildings of overhanging tree branches and create a zone, clear of vegetation around all buildings.
Access for Firefighters
Make sure your property number is clearly visible so emergency services can identify when approaching the entrance.
Check access tracks around your property. Clear vegetation and signposting if necessary.
Have the contact details of your insurer or Insurance Broker, as a first point of call for recovery assistance after a fire.
You can find more information on preparing for fires at the following locations:
• Local Council websites
• Local Country Fire Authorities
• Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries
• Insecurity South Australia
• New South Wales Department of Primary Industries
Having the correct insurance cover is a safety net you hope you will never need to use. Make sure you regularly review the cover provided and use the services of a broker to do the legwork in sourcing quotes and doing comparisons of cover. Maintain a focus on what you get for your money, rather than just opting for the cheapest cover (there may well be a reason for it being cheap!)
In the event of a fire, your Insurance Broker will arrange for assessment of the damage and guide you through the process of lodging a claim, working with you to ensure a timely and positive result.
Contributor acknowledgement: Know Risk. For more information on how you can help protect your assets this fire season, go to www.mga.com