Australia and bushfires, they’re two seeds in a Banksia pod. Aussie plants need a good burning like Explorers need their weekends away, but will the fire season ruin your adventure plans? Bushfires will never stop being dangerous but with a few precautions you can still head out this summer, or know when to make a call to stay home.
When’s Bushfire Season?
Bushfire season varies greatly across Australia. Hot and dry summer conditions dominate in the south while in the north the danger is highest over the dry season: winter and spring.
Keep An Eye On The Forecast
In the weeks leading up to your trip you’ll want to be aware of the weather forecast. Severe bushfire conditions across Australia are caused by hot, dry winds blowing from the arid centre.
Here’s what to look for, thanks to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).
Low Humidity: Below 20% starts to really dry out timber and grasses.
Wind: High winds fan flames and allows burning embers to spread and spark new fires.
Rainfall: Drought-like conditions will ensure that the bush is super dry and ready to easily light up. And not in the good way.
Not only are these conditions pretty gross for hiking and bikepacking, they also significantly increase the Fire Danger.
Check out this article from the BOM to become a bushfire weather guru.
Check The Fire Danger
It might seem a bit redundant, in a country where the second lowest fire danger rating is “high”, but those colourful fire danger signs are definitely worth checking.
Fire danger can be checked on the ever trustworthy BOM website (look for “fire danger ratings” under your state heading), your local fire service website, relevant apps or even the radio or TV.
The Bushwalking Blog has shared this ripper infographic to help make checking the fire danger and alerts even easier!
If you’re heading to a National Park it’s also worth checking the relevant parks website for specific warnings, bans and closures.
Make The Call
It’s tough I know! But when the weather’s dicey and the fire danger is lookin’ a bit much it’s way better to make the call early, cancel the trip and live to explore another day.
I’m Going – What Can I Do To Stay Safe?
There are going to be times when the fire danger isn’t high enough to cancel your trip, but you’re not in the clear. Make these basic things part of your routine to explore safely in bushfire season:
Know your escape routes – Whether you’re camping, hiking, bikepacking or climbing, check the map for possible escape routes before you head into the bush.
Let someone know you’re going – Good advice for any adventure, it’s important that others know where you are and your intended route if a bushfire develops.
Take a PLB and a fully charged phone – Taking a beacon is a no brainer and a charged phone (or a backup battery pack) should be too. Some groups recommend taking a small radio to tune in to updates but nowadays you’re more likely to use an app. Bookmark the relevant websites too!
Talk to locals – Rangers, that bloke hosing his driveway or the owner of the local servo will usually have a pretty good idea of the conditions and whether your idea’s bat-shit crazy or not.
What If I Get Caught In A Bushfire?
So things have got really hectic; an unforeseen change in weather or a spot of arson has left a bushfire bearing down on you, what can you do?
Call Triple 000 – Don’t muck around, bushfires are always an emergency. Get in touch with emergency services (you can call 112 on your mobile) or set off your beacon if you’re out of mobile range.
Don’t Panic or Run – You won’t outrun a fire, but you can outsmart it. Turn back if you see smoke and head towards lower ground as fire moves more quickly uphill.
Seek Cleared or Burnt Areas – Rocky areas, clearings, roads, rivers and dams are all good options. Likewise, if you can make it to a burnt area it’s unable to burn again. Don’t shelter in water tanks, you might get boiled!
Get Low – Cover your skin as much as possible, your mouth with a damp cloth and tuck into a hollow to further protect yourself. Put on clothing made of natural fibres if possible, synthetics easily melt. Some pages recommend only venturing out in natural fibres but if the danger’s that high I’d probably just stay at home.
Stunt It – As an absolute last resort you can jump through the flames. They’ll need to be less than 1m high with visible clear ground on the other side. Cover your face and jump through to the already burnt ground on the other side.
Information here thanks to this brochure from the NSW Rural Fire Service.
Oh And Don’t Start A Fire…
Only light campfires in designated spots (leave no trace) and extinguish your fire completely with water before you sleep or leave camp. It might look like the fire will just burn down while you sleep but what if a tree falls into it or an ember blows into a bush? Ask if you really need a fire on a warm summer’s night anyway.
If there’s a Total Fire Ban or a Park Fire Ban there will be specific restrictions on fires, BBQs and gas cookers (even the hiking ones). Check with the local authorities or you could risk massive fines and gaol time.
Explore Safely This Bushfire Season
Bushfires are a terrifying and dangerous aspect of day to day life in Australia. Even writing this article was hard (the topic doesn’t lend itself to jokes). The good news is that with some preparation and awareness you can still go camping and hiking this summer. And if the conditions are too dodgy, I’ll see you at the beach!