Only 1 in 10 Victorians living in areas at high risk of bushfire say they would leave early on days of high fire danger, a CFA survey has revealed as Victoria braces for a few hot and windy days.
That’s the lowest proportion in the past seven years of the CFA’s Bushfire Community Survey, undertaken annually since 2009-10, which recorded a peak of 15 per cent in 2012.
However, the number of people who said they would stay and defend their homes also dropped to 13 per cent only a year after it recorded a high of 17 per cent.
Instead, a third of respondents said they would leave as soon as they knew a fire was threatening their town or suburb (33 per cent), while a quarter said they would do as much as possible to protect their property but leave if they felt threatened by the fire.
Another 10 per cent said they would wait to see what the fire was like before deciding whether to stay or leave, while some (7 per cent) said they would wait for police, fire or emergency services to tell them what to do on the day.
Deputy Chief Officer Stephanie Rotarangi said those who waited too long to leave, or were not adequately prepared to defend their property, could be risking their lives and those of firefighters.
“Leaving early is the safest option to protect yourself and your family and it means leaving the area before a fire starts – not when you can see flames or smell smoke. Leaving early means avoiding panic, being trapped, making the wrong choices and risking serious injury or death,” she said.
“Victoria’s environment and climate means we live in one of the most fire prone regions in the world, therefore the only way that you can guarantee your safety during a bushfire is not being in it.
“Waiting to leave means a drive that normally takes a few minutes could take hours, or you may not be able to get out at all.”
Dr Rotarangi warned Victorians not to be complacent despite recent rainfall across much of Victoria.
“Some areas of the state, particularly in Gippsland, are extremely dry and will need many weeks of above-average rain before drought-stressed plants start to recover,” she said.
“While the recent rain has made fuel less flammable in the short term, the current weather outlook indicates a return to dry conditions and elevated fire risk.
“This season still has the potential to be in line with Victoria’s driest fire seasons. It’s not a question of if there will be bushfires this season, it’s a question of when and where,” she said.
“You may feel that we say the same thing every year, and to an extent we do. That’s because in a place like Victoria, we need to continually be prepared for the worst. When grass or scrub fire strikes, it will travel at a tremendous speed and be difficult to control, so preparation is the key.
Dr Rotarangi said that on hot, dry and windy days, such as those forecast for Thursday and Friday, fires can start and spread quickly. She urged Victorians to learn what the Fire Danger Ratings mean and use them as triggers to take action to keep themselves and loved ones safe.
“Talk to your household, family or neighbours about your bushfire survival plan and check Fire Danger Ratings daily so you know when to leave. The CFA website has more information and will help you use the Fire Danger Rating to know when conditions are dangerous enough to put your bushfire survival plan in to action.
“It's your responsibility to make the best possible decision for your family based on the current Fire Danger Ratings and official warnings for your area.
“It’s extremely important that people spend some time getting to understand the Fire Danger Ratings and how to use them to keep themselves safe.”
Fire Danger Ratings – what you need to know
- The Fire Danger Rating tells you how dangerous a fire would be if one started. The higher the rating the more dangerous the conditions.
- Make sure you know what fire weather district you’re in, and check the Fire Danger Rating and Total Fire Ban for that district every day over summer.
- If the Fire Danger Rating is Code Red or Extreme, you could be risking your life if you wait and see.
- Ratings are forecast using Bureau of Meteorology data, based on weather and other environmental conditions such as fuel load. Providing this information in advance enables people to prepare for any significant forecast of fire weather.
- Fire Danger Ratings are displayed on 85 automated and around 300 static signs across Victoria.
- To check the Fire Danger Rating visit www.emergency.vic.gov.au, check the VicEmergency app or phone the VicEmergency Hotline on 1800 226 226.
- Download the VicEmergency app now so you know how it works well before you need to use it. For example, you can set up tailored watch zones for the area where you live, go on holiday or to monitor what is happening where friends and family are located.
Code Red – what you need to know
- A Fire Danger Rating of ‘Code Red’ is the highest level of rating in Victoria.
- It clearly identifies to the community, emergency management agencies, municipalities, and other key service providers the potential for the worst possible bushfire conditions.
- A Code Red Fire Danger Rating is rare and extremely serious.
- It is determined the day prior to allow schools, national parks and other facilities to prepare to close or suspend services.
- It could be uncontrollable, unpredictable and fast moving
- Fire services will find it difficult to put out
- There’s a high likelihood that people in the path of a fire will be killed or seriously injured
- Many homes are likely to be destroyed – even the best prepared homes won’t be safe.
- A Code Red Fire Danger Rating means that if a fire were to start:
- If you are in a high-risk area, the only way to stay safe is to leave the night before or the morning of a Code Red day.
- Talk to everyone you live with about your plans for a Code Red day so you all know what to do.
- Don’t rely on getting a warning if a fire starts. It’s your responsibility to know when to leave.
If a Fire Danger Rating of Severe, Extreme or Code Red is predicted, tune in to ABC local radio, commercial and designated community radio stations or Sky News TV, phone the VicEmergency Hotline on 1800 226 226, visit www.emergency.vic.gov.au, download the VicEmergency app and follow VicEmergency Twitter and Facebook for more information.