Leave before fire starts, the CFA is urging

ALMOST half of all Victorians living in areas at high risk of bushfire could be risking their lives by opting to ‘wait and see’ rather than ‘leave early’ on high-risk fire days, a CFA survey has revealed.

More than 600 people in some of Victoria’s highest risk fire locations were surveyed, and the results come despite the state suffering its worst fire season in a decade last year.

The latest seasonal outlook predicts a lower risk of long-running bushfires than last year, when 1.5 million hectares of Victoria burned, but grassfires remain a high risk across the state.

The respondents to CFA’s 2020 Bushfire Community Survey, undertaken after each bushfire season since 2009-10, who fell into the ‘wait and see’ category included:

A quarter (26 per cent) said they would do as much as possible to protect their properties but would leave if they felt threatened by the fire;

12 per cent said they would wait to see what the fire was like before deciding whether to stay or leave;

One in 10 said they would wait for police, fire or emergency services to tell them what to do on the day; and

Only eight per cent said they planned to leave the area on days of high-risk fire danger.

CFA chief officer Jason Heffernan warned those who waited too long to leave, or weren’t adequately prepared to defend their properties 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,” he said.

“Leaving early means leaving the night before, or early in the morning of, a high-risk fire day.

“It means it’s easier to make good, rational decisions and avoid panic, becoming trapped and risking serious injury or death.

“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.”

Mr Heffernan said that on hot, dry and windy days, fires could start and spread quickly.

He urged Victorians to learn what the fire danger ratings meant and use them as triggers to take action to keep themselves and loved ones safe.

“Households will need different triggers depending on their circumstances, such as whether their property is located near bushland and whether escape routes are limited,” he said.

“However, CFA recommends people in high-risk bushfire settings should leave early on days of fire danger ratings of ‘severe’, ‘extreme’ or ‘code red’.

“On code red days, leaving early is the only safe option.

“Homes are not designed or constructed to withstand fires in those conditions.

“Talk to your household, family or neighbours about your bushfire survival plan and check fire danger ratings daily so you know when to leave.

“Fire safety is a shared responsibility and on high fire risk days you cannot expect a fire truck at every house.

“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.”

To check the fire danger ratings, visit emergency.vic.gov.au, check the VicEmergency app or phone the VicEmergency Hotline on 1800 226 226.

The CFA advises people to download the VicEmergency app now so they know how it works well before they need to use it.

Users can set up tailored watch zones for the area where they live or holiday, or to monitor what is happening where friends and family are located.

People can cisit the CFA website to learn more about fire danger ratings and decide which rating is the trigger to leave depending on location and circumstances, make a bushfire survival plan or register for a ‘fire safety essentials’ online session.