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Insight

Be prepared in bushfire season

By Lidia Siljanoski on

Catastrophic bushfires claim hundreds of properties every year, destroying the homes and belongings of countless families. With extended dry spells already occurring, particularly in NSW, fire authorities are warning of an early and extremely dangerous fire season ahead.

Protect your family and property by preparing early for the upcoming bushfire season. Below we provide tips to help ensure you’re in the best position possible should you be faced with the threat of an approaching bushfire.

Whether you live in a rural or a suburban community, in a stand-alone home, unit or apartment, there is always the inherent risk of a bushfire. A mixture of prolonged heat, dry conditions and strong winds can fast create the ‘perfect storm’ where small sparks transform into roaring infernos, and ember attacks occur kilometres away from the fire front. In a matter of minutes the unpredictable nature of a bushfire can create life threatening situations. 

The last severe fire season brought "insured losses of more than $630 million” quotes ICA Chief Executive Rob Whelan. “Australians must not underestimate the damage a severe fire season could inflict.”*

In what has been considered fairly benign fire seasons in recent years, there have still been multiple devastating bushfires across Australia:

  • Lightning strikes in Tasmania that sparked nearly 50 fires across the state
  • Yarloop in WA where 121 homes were destroyed in an unprecedented blaze which leveled most of the town in 7 minutes.
  • The 2015 Christmas Day fires along the Great Ocean Road which destroyed 116 homes and at least 2,000 hectares of bushland and property.
  • The Pinery fires in SA that burned 82,600 hectares of property and resulted in 2 fatalities.

As more and more rural areas are redeveloped into sprawling suburban communities, nobody should be blasé about the threat of a bushfire. Kinglake and Marysville are prime examples of this, falling victim to the 2009 Black Saturday fires that tragically burned through over a million acres of land and saw significant loss of life.

Careful preparation is essential to keep you, your family and your property safe when faced with the threat of a bushfire.

Preparing for the bushfire season ahead

1. Make sure your home, contents and/or business insurance cover you for fire

If your house or business was damaged beyond repair in a bushfire, could you afford to fully replace it? Every summer carries with it an inherent bushfire risk, therefore having a policy that protects your property assets in a bushfire is crucial.

To help you escape a significant financial loss, it is important to:

a) accurately nominate your building and contents sums insured
b) check your policy wording to determine whether you are covered for bushfire.

If you are uncertain about your current level of insurance cover, talk to your insurance broker to ensure you hold an insurance policy appropriate for your needs.

2. Calculate your risk daily and act accordingly

Throughout the bushfire season, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) consults with state fire authorities Australia-wide to publish danger ratings designed to inform residents of potential fire hazards for each day in their local area.

This system consists of two metrics:

  1. Fire Danger Rating (FDR)
    This rates the prediction of fire behaviour, including how hard it would be to extinguish a fire once it starts. The rating provides information on the type of bushfire that could be experienced on that day, and the type of threat that it may impose to life and property (on a scale from Low-Moderate to Code Red).

  2. Fire Danger Index (FDI)
    This metric measures the likelihood of a fire starting. It incorporates factors such as the dryness of vegetation, temperature, wind speed, and the probability of certain weather conditions such as lightning.

Whether you live in or on the outskirts of an ‘at-risk area’, it’s important to make sure you:

  • Understand the different types of fire ratings
  • Regularly check with your local fire authority for updates
  • Remain prepared to evacuate in the event of an emergency

For more information regarding Fire Danger Ratings and what to expect, contact your local fire authority or obtain a brochure from their website.

3. Are you in a Bushfire Prone Area (BPA)? Understand how new building standards impact you.

In the wake of the 2009 Black Saturday fires, the Australian Government implemented updated rules and regulations for new constructions in BPAs (as part of AS3959). The regulations set out strict new standards and construction material guidelines to help buildings have a better chance of surviving certain bushfire attack levels. What does this mean for you though?

a) Check your level of Insurance!

Unfortunately given the changes, there is now huge potential for buildings in BPAs to be underinsured due to the increased cost of reconstructing a building. For buildings that pre-date the new regulations, the risk of underinsurance is even greater as any rebuild must comply with new regulations.

Did you know that a typical 4 bedroom home in a high-risk bushfire area can cost more than $100,000 extra to rebuild in accordance with the new standards?**

If this is of concern to you, speak to your insurance broker to ensure your insurance accounts for the additional cost of rebuilding in a BPA.

b) Retrofit older properties to minimise the chance of a loss

To minimise the risk of damage, the Victorian Building Authority recommends that owners of older dwellings engage the services of a registered building practitioner to discuss retro-fitting your property. While retro-fitting isn’t mandatory, it can help prevent a total property loss in the event of a bushfire.

If you’re concerned that your property is located in a bushfire prone area, consult with your local state fire or land authority for more information and advice.

4. Clean up your property

Dry vegetation and waste can act as fuel in a fire. A small spark or ember that ignites can fast transform a pile of waste into an additional fire front during a bushfire.

Tips:

  • Clean out your gutters, remove dead branches and dispose of your lawn clippings to help prevent a spot fire from occurring on your property.
  • The CFA recommend having a 20m ‘circle of safety’ around buildings that is clear of major vegetation or rubbish to help keep your property safe when confronted with a bushfire

For more tips on how to prepare your property, consult your local fire authority (as per the table below).

5. Create a bushfire planfire tips narrow v3

You don’t have to live in a rural area to be at risk from a bushfire – ember attacks can occur kilometres ahead of where a fire originates. Whether you are near bushland, a forest, grassland or coastal scrub, you need to have a clear bushfire plan.

A well-practiced written bushfire plan helps you establish clarity on:

  • When to leave
  • Where to evacuate to
  • What to take with you in the event of an evacuation.

Your ability to think clearly during an emergency can quickly become impaired and many lives have been lost due to families and individuals being unprepared and leaving their evacuation until the last minute.

Should I stay or should I go?

As part of your bushfire emergency plan, one of the biggest decisions you need to make well in advance is whether to stay and fight a fire, or to evacuate.

If you don’t think you or your family can successfully defend your property against a fire then you need to relocate somewhere safe as early as possible.

Alternatively, if you decide to stay and defend your property, you need to make sure you are well organised and adequately prepared with the appropriate equipment and resources.

For more information on bushfire plans and defending your property, consult with your local fire authority (refer table below).

6. Keep updated

Tune into your local ABC AM or designated emergency radio station for further information regarding bushfires and areas under threat. Twitter feeds and other social media account updates are equally as helpful in relaying information during a bushfire.

Keep your eyes out for the mobile number - 0444 444 444. Emergency Alert Australia can send out state-wide or area-specific texts alerting residents to impending fire threats, the appropriate action to take, as well as a telephone number and website where you can obtain more information.

For further information on preparing your property for the bushfire season, please visit your local Fire Authority’s website by clicking the relevant button below:

Department of Fire and Emergency ServicesNorthern Territory Fire and Rescue ServiceSouth Australian Metropolitan Fire ServiceSouth Australian Country Fire ServiceQueensland Fire and Emergency ServicesQueensland Government Rural Fire ServiceFire and Rescue NSWNew South Wales Rural Fire ServiceACT Fire and RescueACT Rural Fire ServiceMetropolitan Fire BrigadeCountry Fire AuthorityTasmania Fire ServiceImage HTML map generator

If you are concerned about the level of insurance cover for your home or business, please contact your Whitbread Insurance Brokers Account Manager on 1300 424 627.

*Source: ICA warns of grim disaster season
**Source: AAMI

LinkedIn WIB narrow


This insight article is not intended to be personal advice and you should not rely on it as a substitute for any form of personal advice.  Please contact Whitbread Associates Pty Ltd ABN 69 005 490 228 Licence Number: 229092 trading as Whitbread Insurance Brokers for further information or refer to our website.

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