Ongoing Quest To Make Bushfires Fatality Free

January 14, 2015

The recent fires in Adelaide have served as a grim reminder that bushfires aren’t just a concern for country residents. There are plenty of suburbs around the country which are literally a disaster waiting to happen. I recently sat down with Brian, a lifelong rural resident with exceptional acknowledge and a survivor of the tragic Black Saturday fires of 2009.

While he spoke, it became startlingly obvious that if I was ever caught in a bushfire, I’d be in serious trouble. More apparent was the fact that I probably wouldn’t be alone. There are so many aspects of bushfires that most city and suburban dwellers just aren’t aware of. So, when Brian shared his experience about escaping the Black Saturday bushfires, his life saving information prompted me to write this article in a quest to spread the word and hopefully save some lives.

Now, most of us would have heard the warnings about pre-planning and deciding whether to stay or go BEFORE a fire approaches? How many of us in the city or suburbs really take notice? I’ll admit that I’ve never really considered it. I’ve assumed those warnings are mainly for residents in fire prone areas. Naive really, because bushfires can strike anywhere.

During the conversation, I realised that my naivety would have cost my life and the lives of my family. I don’t know if you recall, but during the Black Saturday fires, people were found burned alive in their cars? What a terrifying thought and my heart goes out to their loved ones. I assumed it was because the fires surrounded them, leaving no way to escape. In reality, it may have been something very different.

Imagine a combustion heater and the way it works. Without fuel and oxygen, they just go out. Most have a lever which oxygen levels can be adjusted to reduce or increase the heat. A bushfire works exactly the same way. The more fuel and oxygen it can get, the hotter and more deadly it becomes.

Cars also need air to circulate around the engine to keep running. Without it the car ceases, just like running out of petrol. So like me, if your plan would be to wait until the last minute and jump into your car to escape an oncoming fire, you would very likely die. At some point the engine would cease and you’re brilliant escape plan would actually put you right in harms way.

Thankfully, a car can still roll if you’re on a downward slope. Brian explained that his car’s engine ceased on the way down a hill toward safety, during Black Saturday. He let the car roll and tried to restart the engine. Luckily, as he approached the base of the hill, the engine restarted. Apparently the air concentration was greater at the lower altitude, plus the distance from the fire had also increased. Without this knowledge, Brain could have very likely become trapped in his car and become another fatality.

My conversation with Brian was a massive wake up call. I hadn’t ever considered the way bushfire works or how incompatible an escape in a car would be. Despite seeing the commercials and billboards about planning for a bushfire, I’d neglected to understand the significance of the message; plan to stay or go BEFORE the fire.

Now I know why, the message really hits home. There’s no escape in a vehicle once the fire gets close. Due to the intensity of the heat, the safest option is to leave the area well and truly before a fire rips through. Your home and belongings can be replaced, but your life and that of your loved ones can’t. Please share this information in a quest to make all bushfires, fatality free.

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