Is your farm bushfire ready?

Bushfires and grass fires are a serious threat to farmers. A fire can wipe out years of hard work in a moment.

While it is impossible to eliminate the risk of fire, farmers can introduce measures to reduce the threat.

A Bushfire Survival Plan should be an integral part of an overall business management plan, and should include regular fuel reduction and adherence to good farming practices.

Fact sheets containing further information on farm protection are available from your local council, regional Country Fire Service (CFS) office or the CFS website www.cfs.sa.gov.au

Reduce your bushfire risk by preparing your property and equipment

Fuel reduction

Reduce the fuel and the threat is reduced – this simple rule should be central to all fire safety plans.

All assets; buildings, stock, crops, fences, hay stacks and fodder resources, need wide areas free of dry grass, undergrowth and fallen branches, to protect them from the impact of fire.

The fuel breaks should be a minimum of four metres wide, although up to 20 metres is recommended for homesteads, hay stacks and fuel storage areas.

Grazing, ploughing, harrowing, slashing and mowing are all effective methods of clearing the land. Maintaining the breaks should be an ongoing commitment, particularly as summer approaches.

If concerned about the bushfire risk from native vegetation in the vicinity of your home you should obtain a copy of the “Guide to Management of Native Vegetation to Reduce the Impact of Bushfire” to work out what you do to manage the risk. The Guide and application forms for obtaining clearance approval are available from www.cfs.sa.gov.au

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Burning off

Farmers need to manage burning off with extreme care as the practice can present a major fire risk.

Unless planned carefully and under the right conditions, there is a real danger the burn off could get out of control. If that happens, you risk prosecution and compensation claims.

Obtain a council permit for burning off during the fire danger season. When burning off farmers should:

  • Have a four metre wide fuel break
  • Give adequate notice to neighbours (stipulated on the permit)
  • Have adequate personnel, water and firefighting equipment
  • Light the fire on the leeward side and use a strip-burning pattern to control the fire.
  • Adhere to all other conditions listed on the permit

Farm machinery maintenance

Sparks from machinery such as mowers, slashers, welders and metal cutting tools can cause bushfires during the fire danger season. Many of these fires start due to inappropriate use or faults with machinery.

It is critical to regularly overhaul such machinery and tools to ensure they are in good working order. This also extends to good maintenance on harvesting machinery both before and during harvesting operations, paying particular attention to wearing parts and bearings.

It only takes one spark on the wrong day and with the right conditions a fire can easily get away. The risk is reduced if you maintain your equipment.

The following tips can help reduce the risk significantly:

  • Keep spark arresters clean
  • Check the exhaust system for holes
  • Fit an efficient spark arrester to the exhaust pipe of tractors
  • Regularly move dry grass and stubble from vehicles, particularly near exhaust systems, stone guards and bash plates
  • Keep machinery clean of oil and grease
  • Inspect fuel lines and tanks for leaks
  • Check brake adjustments
  • Lubricate machinery regularly to prevent overheating
  • Keep battery terminals and electrical wiring clean
  • Store machinery away from crops

During the fire danger season when operating machinery and equipment always have an extinguisher, water, rake or shovel on hand and make regular checks for fire.

Farmers are reminded that causing a bushfire could lead to prosecution with severe penalties if the fire was caused by inappropriate use or faulty machinery and equipment.

Protection of fodder reserves

Fodder reserves such as haystacks and silos should be well sited and protected by fuel breaks. They may provide the only feed for livestock following a fire.

Choose a safe site away from the likely direction of fire, roads, boundary fences and trees.

Surround the reserve with a 20 metre fuel breaks, or erect a temporary fence to enable stock to graze up to the stack.

For the best protection, install a sprinkler system and ensure all flammable reserves are insured. Silage is non-flammable so does not require precautions.

Firefighting equipment

Investing in firefighting and safety equipment and keeping it well maintained should be a priority for farmers.

Recommended equipment includes:

  • A mobile firefighting water supply with its own pump, hoses and water tank such as a farm fire unit.
  • Personal protective clothing comprising of cotton or natural fibre long sleeve work shirt and trousers.
  • Safety equipment including sturdy leather work boots, helmet, gloves, eye protection and dust mask(P2).
  • A UHF CB radio.

The Private Farm Fire Unit Handbook (www.cfs.sa.gov.au) provides further information regarding farm fire units and the wearing of personal protective clothing and safety equipment when firefighting.

Grain Harvesting Code of Practice

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Current legislation does not prevent harvesting activities in adverse fire conditions. It is only limited to providing requirements to control the outbreak of a fire with the use of stationary and internal combustion engines such as firefighting equipment and fire breaks.

The SACFS has developed a voluntary code of practice to provide solutions to reduce the fire risk when grain harvesting in the fire danger season. The code of practice stipulates parameters to suspend harvesting when the actual local weather conditions start to deteriorate. When the Grass Fire Danger Indicators (GFDI) exceed 35 if a fire broke out it could be too difficult to control.

As harvesting occurs during the fire danger season this code also provides recommended practices to reduce the risk of fire regardless of the weather conditions.

To reduce the risk of fires, prior to and during harvesting operations, farmers should be:

  • Monitoring the actual local weather conditions and media fire ban information
  • Minimising the crop residue build up on machines
  • Paying attention to areas of heat build-up including engines, exhausts, brakes, wearing parts and bearings to reduce the risk of fire
  • Have access to UHF CB radio or mobile phone to contact emergency services in case of fire
  • Have a mobile water supply available such as a farm fire unit for firefighting.
  • Have fuel breaks around the crops

This code of practice should be applied to any broadacre harvesting of flammable crops.

Activities outside of the fire danger season

The number of fires which get out of control outside of the gazetted Fire Danger Season in South Australia is of concern to the SACFS and the rural community.

In an attempt to reduce the fire risk the SACFS provides guidelines to landholders that define simple measures and actions that should be considered whenever these activities are being undertaken. The activities of concern relate to the use of metal cutting tools and welders and broad acre stubble burning.

Metal Cutting Tools and Welders Guide

The use of these tools has been the point of ignition for numerous fires. The main cause of these fires has been from a lack of planning and preparation and inappropriate use of these tools and welders in and around flammable vegetation and other material.

Restrictions apply to the use of metal cutting tools and welders during the declared Fire Danger Season and on Total Fire Ban days as defined in the Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005.

No restrictions are applied to their use outside of the Fire Danger Season and as a consequence fires may result from use of these tools and the lack of consideration of basic fire safety precautions.

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This guide applies to all people operating metal cutting tools and welders outside of the declared fire danger season. (See www.cfs.sa.gov.au )

Broadacre Stubble Burning Guide

Broadacre stubble burning is the farm management practice that produces the greatest fire risk every summer and autumn if not carefully planned and implemented with caution.

Weather conditions conducive to burning continue after the Fire Danger Season has finished and restrictions on the use of fire under the Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005 no longer apply, unless a Total Fire Ban has been declared.

Without legislative conditions to adhere to, many broadacre stubble burning activities are conducted inappropriately, increasing the risk of bushfire and the likelihood of fires escaping into unburnt neighbouring land.

This guide serves as a Code of Practice to the South Australian farming community to assist in the practice of safe broadacre stubble burning. This Code outlines the process and resources recommended to plan for and conduct a safe broadacre burn outside of the Fire Danger Season. (See www.cfs.sa.gov.au )

Community programs and strategies to help your family

One of the best ways to help you plan for bushfire is by speaking with a local South Australian Country Fire Service (SACFS) Community Engagement Officer and finding out when and what bushfire safety workshops are being held in your area.

The SACFS Community Engagement Unit has developed a number of useful programs for communities in high bushfire risk areas. These programs raise awareness of:

  • Your bushfire risk
  • Bushfire behaviour
  • How to protect your house and property
  • Your personal safety
  • Bushfire survival planning.

Communities working together to be bushfire ready are safer communities and there are some excellent community strategies to help you, these include:

  • Making plans to care for young children, elderly and disabled people in the street in the event of a bushfire,
  • Making plans for your pets and your neighbours’ pets,
  • Nominating a house in the street most likely to survive a bushfire for others to shelter in,
  • Organising working bees to reduce fuel hazards,
  • Improving access between properties,
  • Becoming familiar with each other’s fire fighting equipment,
  • Organising bulk buying of fire fighting equipment,
  • Developing a neighbourhood resource list,
  • Being aware of each other’s bushfire survival plans and sharing ideas and innovations
  • Researching the fire history in your area,
  • Working together with the CFS Community Engagement team to learn how fires behave and how they destroy homes,
  • Conducting a street walk with your local brigade to identify fire hazards,
  • Producing a map of your area, identifying property owners, local dams and other water supplies and providing a copy to your local CFS brigade,
  • Checking with the local school to find out what they plan to do in the event of a fire,
  • Making your property firefighter-friendly – can fire appliances fit through gates and reach water supplies etc?
  • Establishing a creche to free up adults to patrol against spark and ember attack,
  • Creating a library of CFS brochures, fact sheets and pamphlets for you and your neighbours (and check back on the website regularly to keep it current).

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