Bushfire Survival Guide

By Emily

Fire Danger Rating

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Low - Moderate: Review and rehearse your bushfire survival plan. Fires can be easily controlled but can still present a threat.

High: Ensure that you, your family, your home and property are well prepared for the risk of a bushfire. Fires can be easily controlled but still present a threat.

Very High: Be prepared to implement your bushfire survival plan and keep informed of current fire activity by monitoring local media, and regularly checking for updates on the RFS website or Information Line. Fires can be difficult to control and still present a threat.

Severe: Leaving early will always be the safest option for you and your family, staying and defending is only an option if your home is well prepared and you are currently capable of actively defending it. Fires will likely be uncontrollable and fast moving with flames that may be higher than roof tops.

Extreme: Leaving early (hours before) will always be the safest option for you and your family. Staying and defending should only be an option if your home is well prepared, specifically designed and constructed for bushfires and you are currently capable of actively defending it. Fires will likely be uncontrollable, unpredictable and fast-moving with flames in the tree tops and higher than roof tops.

Catastrophic: The safest option is for you and your family to leave early, hours or days before a fire occurs. Even well prepared and constructed homes will not be safe. Fires will likely be uncontrollable, unpredictable and very fast-moving with highly aggressive flames extending high above treetops and buildings. (Perkins M, 2009)

Emergency Contact Information

Police/Ambulance/Fire & Rescue: 000


Ainslie: (02) 6207 8520

Belconnen: (02) 6207 8540

Charnwood: (02) 6207 8560

Chisolm: (02) 6207 8570

Fishwick: (02) 6207 8510

South Tuggeranong: (02) 6207 8580

Gungahlin: (02) 6207 8990

Kambah: (02) 6207 8550

Phillip: (02) 6207 8530

Bushfire Survival Plans

Preparing to Leave to a Safer Place

Family/Household Considerations

  • Ensure entire household/family is accounted for
  • Identify your trigger to leave (ie. see the fire, updates on media/radio, fire danger rating, etc.)
  • Identify what to do with your pets/livestock
  • Identify what you will take with you (survival kit, personal documents, photos, etc.)
  • Identify your safer place
  • Plan how you will get to your safer place
  • Identify what you will do if someone is at work, school, etc.
  • Communicate to someone about your survival plan and intentions to leave
  • List actions you need to take that are specific to your home
  • Identify someone to contact when you arrive at your safer place
  • List items of protective clothing required by your household
  • Identify where you will store these

Backup Plan

  • Identify a backup plan in case it is too late to leave
  • Identify errors in your survival plan (ie. no transport)
  • Identify the safety of your home if you stay

Prepare your Property

  • Identify your plan of action as the fire front approaches (ie. prepare buckets of water, etc.)
  • Identify potential fire risks around your home (ie. vents, chimneys, etc.)
  • List equipment you will require (ie. hoses, wool blankets, etc.)
  • Identify your independent water supply and how you will access it
  • Identify your plan of action if your home catches on fire (ie. where will you go to be safer)

Preparing to Stay and Defend

Family Considerations

  • Ensure all members of your household/family are accounted for
  • Identify the people who will leave to a safer place (ie. children, elderly, etc.)
  • Identify how they will get to that safer place
  • Identify the trigger for them to leave
  • Identify what you would do if someone was at work, school, etc.
  • Identify items required in your survival kit and its storage location

Preparing your Property

  • Identify potential fire risks around your home
  • Identify modifications that need to be made and when they will happen
  • Identify equipment you will need and their storage locations
  • Identify the location of your independent water supply

Personal Safety

  • Identify the number of people that would be required to stay and defend
  • Identify who will be there to help you
  • Identify the items of protective clothing that will be required and their location
  • Identify your backup plan if one or no people are home at the time and you are unable to return to the house

On the day of the Bushfire

  • Identify what needs to be done specifically to your property before the fire front arrives
  • Ensure pets/livestock are safe
  • Identify how you will relocate the members of your household that are leaving to a safer place and the time it will take
  • Identify your plan of action if your home does catch on fire

When to Leave

If you are planning to leave to a safer place it is best to leave early as roads may be blocked or traffic congested. This could be days before the fire. Monitoring social media, radio and the fire danger rating will give you a good indication of when to leave, for example, if it is a Code Red (catastrophic) rating leave the night before or early in the morning and if it is a severe or extreme rating leave that morning.

If you are planning to stay and actively defend it is best to leave when emergency services arrive to help.

What to Take

  • Food and water
  • Wool blankets
  • Protective clothing (light long clothing made of natural fibres)
  • Mobile phones and chargers
  • Torches and spare batteries
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Medicines
  • Toiletries
  • First aid kit
  • Money
  • Hats
  • Contact information
  • Pets (if possible)
  • Photos
  • Personal documents and records
  • Irreplaceable items
  • Keys

Planning Your Escape Route

Step 1

Choose your destination. Your destination is best to be in a low bushfire risk area. If you do not have family or friends in one of these areas identify a community service like a library, shopping centre or public pool to take refuge.

Step 2

Identify your means of transport. If you do not have a car you will need to plan carefully. Ensure you have access to public transport timetables and phone numbers.

Step 3

Plan your route. How you will get to your destination is up to you. Remember to take into account traffic congestion and blocked roads, and always have a back-up plan.

Step 4

Write your plan down and identify someone to communicate with about it. Writing your plan down is the safest option. It is easier to put it into action if it is written down because it avoids confusion, is easier to access and better than trying to remember it when in a panic.

What To Do If It Is Too Late To Leave

If it is too late to leave it is best that you take shelter in a well-prepared building such as a private bunker or community refuge. If this is not possible prepare as best as you can before the fire front arrives at your house. This includes:

  • Dressing in protective clothing
  • Shutting window and doors
  • Removing curtains
  • Moving furniture away from windows
  • Securing a ladder under the manhole with a torch
  • Filling baths, sinks, and buckets with water
  • Covering your face with a cotton handkerchief to reduce smoke inhalation
  • Placing wet blankets and towels around door and window edges
  • Removing or placing outside furniture and doormats inside
  • Filling any additional containers with water outside

When the fire front arrives take refuge inside your house to protect yourself from radiant heat. Take firefighting equipment in with you. Look around for burning embers inside your home. Put out any small spot fires that occur inside. Constantly monitor the progress of the fire. When the fire front has passed return outside to extinguish any small spot fires and check around your home for any embers. If your home catches on fire whilst the fire front is moving past, relocate yourself outside and away from your house onto an area of fire-extinguished land and do not re-enter the house.

What to do if caught on the road

Driving in a fire can lead to serious morbidity and mortality. If you see smoke up ahead always do a u-turn. A car will not offer adequate protection from radiant heat but it is better than being out in the open. If caught on the road in a fire follow these steps:

  1. Pull the car over to the side of the road in a clear area behind a solid object (avoid areas with vegetation as they will burn)
  2. Ensure the car's windows, doors, and air vents are all tightly shut
  3. Put the car's hazard and headlights on so other people can see you
  4. Cover exposed skin with natural fibres
  5. Lay as low as possible (below window level) under a wool blanket until the fire front passes
  6. Drink lots of water to avoid dehydrating
  7. Only move to safety when you feel a reduction in heat

When is it safe to return?

Before returning home it is important to check with emergency services. Even if the fire is under control there can still be issues that prevent you returning, like:

  • Fallen trees
  • Disruption to essential services
  • Crime scenes


  1. ACT Government, (2015). Contact us – ACT Fire & Rescue. [online] Esa.act.gov.au. Available at: http://esa.act.gov.au/actfr/contact-us/ [Accessed 30 Mar. 2016].
  2. CFA, (n.d.). Your Bushfire Plan: The basics - Country Fire Authority. [online] Country Fire Authority. Available at: http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare/your-bushfire-plan/ [Accessed 1 Apr. 2016].
  3. Government of Western Australia, (n.d.). Bushfire Survival Plan. [online] Dfes.wa.gov.au. Available at: http://www.dfes.wa.gov.au/safetyinformation/fire/bushfire/Pages/bushfiresurvivalplan.aspx [Accessed 31 Mar. 2016].
  4. Government of Western Australia, (n.d.). Bushfire Survival Plan: Leaving for a Safer Place. [online] DFES. Available at: http://www.dfes.wa.gov.au/safetyinformation/fire/bushfire/BushfireChecklists/DFES_Bushfire_Survival_Plan-Leaving_for_a_safer_place.pdf [Accessed 31 Mar. 2016].
  5. Government of Western Australia, (n.d.). Bushfire Survival Plan: Planning to Actively Defend. [online] DFES. Available at: http://www.dfes.wa.gov.au/safetyinformation/fire/bushfire/BushfireChecklists/DFES_Bushfire_Survival_Plan-Plan_to_actively_defend.pdf [Accessed 31 Mar. 2016].
  6. Perkins, M. (2009). Being bushfire ready this summer. [online] ABC Sydney. Available at: http://blogs.abc.net.au/nsw/2009/11/bush-fires-in-new-south-wales.html [Accessed 30 Mar. 2016].
  7. Perkins, M. (2009). Being bushfire ready this summer. [online] ABC Sydney. Available at: http://blogs.abc.net.au/nsw/2009/11/bush-fires-in-new-south-wales.html [Accessed 30 Mar. 2016].
  8. Red Cross, (2011). Bushfire Preparing to Leave Early. [online] Fire Ready. Available at: http://www.redcross.org.au/files/Bushfires_leaving_early.PDF [Accessed 1 Apr. 2016].