What it's Like in a Bushfire
Understanding what a bushfire is like will help you choose whether to leave if a fire threatens, or stay and defend your property, and prepare you for the conditions you might experience if you choose to stay.
Most bushfires in Tasmania that threaten homes burn on hot, dry days with strong, gusty winds. If a bushfire is burning towards you on a day like this, it will become increasingly smoky and difficult to see, and your eyes may temporarily become reddened and sore. Breathing in heavy smoke may be uncomfortable. As the fire gets closer, it will get darker and burning embers will begin to land around your home. The closer the fire gets, the more embers there will be. As the fire approaches, you will be able to hear it roaring. Burning embers will rain down on your home and collect in corners and on flat surfaces.
On days when 'catastrophic' fire danger ratings exist, winds may be strong enough to blow roofs from houses, and bring down trees and power lines. These winds may occur well before a fire threatens, and cut off your means of escape.
As the fire reaches your home, the radiant heat from the flames may become unbearable, and you will need to shelter inside.
By the time the bushfire has passed and it is safe to leave the shelter of your home, the noise will have abated. Outside it will be very hot, smoky and windy.
You should extinguish any burning material that might set fire to your home, and continually check inside and outside your home to ensure it isn't burning. You will need to wear appropriate clothing to protect you from radiant heat and embers that will continue to fall for several hours.
Fires look a lot worse at night than during the day, even though they are usually much milder at night.
Fighting a fire under severe, extreme and catastrophic conditions may be one of the most frightening experiences you have. Many people who have successfully defended their homes in bushfires have later made decisions to not defend them again, as they found the experience too traumatic. The strong winds created what they have described as an 'ember storm'. Others have reported that under no circumstances would they expose their children to such an experience. Others have reported that their average fitness levels were inadequate to cope with fire-fighting in the very hot and stressful conditions.
The risk of dying or being seriously injured defending a home under ‘extreme’ and ‘catastrophic’ conditions (fire danger rating exceeds 75) is real. Many people have died defending their homes under these conditions, or sheltering passively inside their homes, or fleeing too late. When these conditions exist, leaving early is the safest option for your survival.
Tasmania Fire Service recommends that you should not plan to defend your home when the fire danger rating exceeds 50 (severe) in your area unless you have created a defendable space and ember-proofed your home.
Tasmania Fire Service recommends that you should not plan to defend your home when the fire danger rating exceeds 75 (extreme) in your area unless your home has a defendable space and has been designed and built specifically to withstand a bushfire.
Tasmania Fire Service recommends that you should not plan to defend your home on days when the fire danger rating exceeds 100 (catastrophic) in your area, even if your home has a defendable space and has been designed and built specifically to withstand a bushfire.
Exceptions to these rules are when firefighters have assessed (triaged) your home on the day a fire is threatening it, and have advised you that it may be defendable. This recognises that even on days with severe, extreme or catastrophic fire danger ratings, some well-prepared and constructed homes may be defendable due to their location. For example, a home surrounded by several hectares of ripening crops, ploughed fields or heavily-grazed paddocks may be safe to defend.