With the bushfire danger period approaching, now is the time to review plans and begin preparation work.
There are simple steps for homeowners at risk of bushfires to take to help protect their home and neighbours, and bring long-term benefits to their properties, one expert said, particularly for people living in the bush.
Hamish McCallum is a veteran CFA firefighter and captain with a background in permaculture - his home in Fryers Forest, near Castlemaine, is an example of practical forward-thinking to keep his family safe.
In a recent presentation to BREAZE, Mr McCallum walked participants through the steps he had taken on his block.
All homes are at risk of ember attack, but blocking off any gaps and vulnerabilities could make the difference - Mr McCallum said smooth surfaces would stop embers attaching or finding their way inside homes, adding fire-resistant materials should be at the forefront of thinking if property owners are considering refitting.
As an example, he is careful with windows at his home.
He used strengthened glass, fire-resistant timber, and silicon to plug any gaps, while keeping any plants nearby in pots so they could be quickly moved on high-risk days.
"In vulnerable places I make sure I can manage it in the easiest way possible," he told the presentation.
His house's main entrance is also designated as a shelter-in-place area, with smaller, reinforced windows, extra insulation and fireproofing, and close access to personal protective equipment and a hose outside - Mr McCallum suggested laundries with doors outside can make good options for such areas to protect families if a bushfire strikes.
Another practical example is choosing and managing trees, and even veggie patches, as some handle heat and even fire better than others, which can create natural firebreaks.
Trimming trees and getting rid of fuels can dramatically improve safety if fire approaches, as canopies will be higher off the ground.
"We've done substantial thinning of regrowth around our property, up to about 50 metres, and I'm working at maintaining a five metre gap between (tree canopies) so fire won't spread," Mr McCallum explained.
"The fuel density is roughly five tonnes per hectare on managed land, compared to 25 tonnes on unmanaged land - the difference it'll make on a Total Fire Ban day is 1.5 to 2m flame heights compared to 8 to 10m flame heights and crowning."
But one of the most important aspects was building community and having a clear plan, Mr McCallum said - the best prepared homes would still be vulnerable if neighbours' houses caught fire because of mismanagement, regardless of whether they lived in the bush or in peri-urban areas.
He said in his village, there was a strong email and CB radio network to ensure neighbours stayed in touch on high fire danger days, as well as regular fire drills.
"In many circumstances, if we're well prepared, our houses are good shelters, you can stand a good chance of saving your houses, but not only do we need to know how to prepare our houses and ourselves, but also understand risks - the weather, level of fire, and general landscape," he said.
"The fuel loads are your houses next door, so once a house goes up, the intensity is as much as a bushfire, with all the added severe pollutants and carcinogens.
"I think prior to this year, the Black Summer, everyone's awareness would peak over summer when risk was really bad, then when risk went away they didn't think about it - this year I've seen a real shift, it's in people's consciousness, they haven't let go of the fact they need to be on top of it now, not when the first bushfires start to happen.
"Perhaps we're becoming more aware that we need to develop a relationship with fire that isn't always about command and control, it's more about how the many aspects of our life have fire connected to it in some capacity - what we carry in our car, what kind of clothes, how we manage our gardens, what we do with water supplies, right through to legislation and more formal frameworks for land management
"When my house goes up, if it goes up, then I haven't given that respect to my neighbours who will then be impacted by the fact that my house is now this severe burning thing - it's a level of personal responsibility."
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The City of Ballarat tends to send Fire Prevention Notices by the end of October, but given how wet conditions have been this year, it is likely to be middle to late November.
Landowners can register their burn-off with ESTA by calling 1800 668 511 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, visit cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare/how-to-prepare-your-property
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