You’ll never think of adventure, particularly Australian Outback travel without thinking about fire. There is something about fire that seeps into our souls and travels with us from generation to generation.
We sit around the fire and tell yarns, we warm ourselves by a fire. Fire is part of the Australian psyche. Through European and Indigenous storytelling, the stories of fire are so important.
More practically, we cook with it, we live with it, and nowadays the Indigenous tradition of managing the land with fire is integral to life in rural Australia with Rural Fire Brigades blending modern science and technology to manage the land for safety, for better agricultural land management and for forest management.
Very much part of life in Australia, it’s inevitable travellers will come across hazard reduction burns, or the use of controlled burning to mitigate the chance of uncontrolled fires that threaten life and property.
FROM PLAN TO ACTION
As the weather turns and the landscape becomes a little drier, Area Director at Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Caloundra on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast Gary Seaman says that fire services will employ strategies that relieve the threat of fire as a risk to life and property. He says apart from actual hazard reduction burns, the various fire services across Australia will look towards educating the community.
He says education includes talking to local community groups and land management agencies about taking notice of fire danger ratings, using online resources and, for individuals having proper fire plans that put preparation of a fire prevention and evacuation plan to reduce risk and manage an emergency situation.
Gary says communities and individuals must understand what “the bushfire season in their area looks like and have a plan to survive the bushfire season.
“Generally, for people on the move, they should source website information on local conditions and listen to the local radio,” Gary says.
Gary says that when travellers are in areas that are more remote, “it falls back onto them to stay informed,” more so than if they were closer to a regional centre where you are more likely to see fire danger signs and hear more on the radio.
He says that when faced with a fire while caravanning, the fire plan should be either to pack up early and move on or to leave the van on site and drive to the nearest town, depending on how remote the location.
The key is to know what you are going to do and have already discussed it with the family or your partner. Gary’s rule is, “if you are going to do something, do it early.”
FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE
Nonetheless, with the hot weather behind us, we forget that this is when various rural authorities and land managers start hazard reduction work to keep things safe when the heat of summer hits again.
Hazard reduction is key to land and fire management nationally. The NSW rural fire service’s advice is that “hazard reduction is just one way of preparing for bushfires—[it] doesn't remove the threat of fire, and it doesn't remove the need for you and your family to be prepared.” This is probably all the more important when you are away from home, away from your familiar surroundings, travelling through the regions.
The authority’s advice is that if there is a hazard reduction burn planned for your area, it is critical to keep indoors and keep doors and windows closed, remove washing from clotheslines and keep your pets inside or in a protected area.
If you are on the move, the NSW Rural Fire Service says, “vehicles must slow down, keep windows up and turn headlights on. It also advises against sightseeing, ‘for their own safety’.”
Gary Seaman agrees. He adds travellers should be willing to “take direction from members of the fire brigade, but keep in mind that some hazard reduction is made by landholders, they won’t look like firemen.
“Take notice of signage like ‘smoke across road’ and ‘hazard reduction in progress—fire-fighters ahead’ or similar signage.”
He reiterated the NSW advice reminding travels, “drive slowly and to the nature of the conditions. Put your lights on. Keep an ear on CB radio channels to pick up relevant information.”
He says that through the CB radio channels “our brigades might even have the opportunity to speak to people travelling on the roads.”
However, with more than two decades of experience, Gary says his advice is “in the best-case scenario.” Ultimately, he says, it is important travellers make sure they remain aware of the situation around them and “drive to the road conditions”.
SMOKE ON THE ROAD
Many travellers have been in that unenviable position of coming across smoke on the road and not knowing what to do. Gary Seaman says that, if the fire conditions are obviously getting more intense, “I’d be pulling up on the side of the road wherever I can pull up safely in the black.”
Being “safe in the black,” Gary says, means parking your rig in a safe area that has already been burnt and cleared.
“I wouldn’t be pulling up on the side of the road with the fire close. Pull up in the black where it’s already burnt and sit it out for a while. The fire may jump the road and burn further up and then it’s gone. You may then be able to keep travelling,” he explains.
If you come across a hazard reduction burn or an uncontrolled fire on a major highway, he says you can rest assured there will be some form of traffic control. Most importantly, he advises that travellers should never drive on without knowing what is in front of them. His advice is for drivers to always keep the fire “in front of them”.
Ultimately, he says, take responsibility and understand the risks and the fire hazard ratings in order to stay safe. If the fire hazard rating is near extreme then travellers should be very careful about where they go.
Many caravanners that travel for long periods often have significant practical skills and sometimes look at utilising those skills.
Gary recommends that travellers with fire-fighting skills or who want to develop those skills and who find themselves looking at staying in one town or region for at least six months should consider volunteering to be among the rural fire brigade that's often responsible for hazard reduction and fire-fighting activities.
Volunteers need to be in an area for at least four to six months to cover the required training and undergo the appropriate police checking.
He says that each unit will be able to provide a level of training to turn the caravanner into a valuable and effective fire-fighting volunteer. Nonetheless, it is one way of turning your fire experience from yarning around a campfire to serving a community.