01 Jan Bushfire safety in car
1. Proactively minimise risk
The most obvious way to avoid the danger of bushfires is to avoid bushfires altogether. In certain circumstances, however, this may not be possible. Nonetheless, there is a big difference between manageable and unacceptable risk.
It’s one thing if you need to be in a bushfire danger zone while evacuating other people, but a potentially life-threatening situation isn’t the time to start packing your car with old sports equipment or greatest hits CDs. Having an emergency supply bag you can quickly grab whether you live in a high-risk area or have to travel through one is essential. At a minimum, your bag should have first aid supplies, plenty of water, and a change of clothes and big wool blanket for each passenger.
2. Don’t panic
It’s an awful reality that people have lost their lives in bushfires because they panicked. There’s no denying that encountering a bushfire is incredibly scary and stressful. But that’s all the more reason you must stay calm and form a plan if you’ll be in an area with bushfire risk. The specifics of the plan will depend on you and your needs, but there are some common factors to consider
First, think about where you would evacuate to if a bushfire threatened the safety of your current location. A family member or friend who you could stay with in the event of an emergency is great, but also consider hotels and other accommodations in case the home of your emergency contact isn’t available at the time.
Then, consider whether there’s any risk that you may be unable to travel there — for example, if your current location has just one main road out of the area, think about what alternative routes you could take if that road became impassable.
Once you have a plan in place, be sure to write it down. You may think you’ll remember it, but in the stress of an active crisis scenario you may find it’s impossible to remember important info like addresses, phone numbers, and other details. Write it down and store it in your car so you can easily refer to it once you’re on the road.
3. Drive extra cautiously
Whenever there’s danger around, the natural human impulse is to get away as fast as possible.
Unfortunately for community safety, everyone has that impulse at the same time when a bushfire is nearby. That’s why although you may understandably be in a hurry and driving right on the speed limit, it’s more important than ever to drive safely as other drivers may be panicked and a danger to others.
If there’s any debris on the road, try to drive around it instead of over it, as you know what hidden nasties may lie in it that can puncture a tyre and deliver you a delay when you don’t have the time to spare. Ensure you follow all road rules, as while it may be tempting to blow through that stop sign, it could be disastrous if another driver approaching has the same idea.
4. If you have to stop, select your spot carefully
If you have sustained a flat tyre or encountered car trouble, you may have no choice but to stop your vehicle. Pay extra attention to where you decide to stop — for example, parking in an open space like a clearing is much better than parking near dense bush. Consider if there are any natural barriers you can use like a rockwall or bare (without vegetation) sand dunes on the coast that could inhibit the spread of fire if it got close.
These measures will help protect you and your car. Once you stop, call or SMS an emergency contact to let them know where you are, what’s happened, and when you expect to be on the road again. If it’s possible — such as if you’ve called roadside assistance — remain in your vehicle while stopped. Although the flames of a bushfire are the greatest danger, other dangers like smoke inhalation can arise, so staying in your car helps keep you safe.
5. Hunker down if flames come close
If you encounter flames and it’s not possible to safely drive out of the area, the safest option is to ensure you car is parked as far away from dense bush as possible. Then, close your windows and doors tightly, and turn off the engine and all power including the air conditioning. If the danger increases, get under the woollen blankets and look to sit beneath window level.
Be sure to keep your fluids up and drink water throughout so you avoid dehydration. This is a harrowing situation to imagine being in, but the good news is that people can get out of it by waiting for the flames to burn out of fuel around them, and then leaving the area once it is safe to do so.
Staying safe and surviving
Of course, it’s best to avoid any chance of encountering a scenario like a bushfire, but taking the right steps can help you survive if you find yourself in harm’s way. If you have time before a bushfire hits, it’s also a good idea to do a safety check on your car. A quick once over seems unimportant when there are other urgent tasks to take care of, but it could mean the difference between staying safe and becoming endangered when driving through a bushfire area.