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Even a small bushfire can be very dangerous because bushwalkers:
- Are on foot
- May have limited water
- Possess no protective equipment
- Have a limited awareness of what’s happening in their vicinity
- May not have expertise in bushfire behaviour
A bushfire can:
- Move quickly and unpredictably
- Rapidly grow larger
Bushfires can have:
- Walls of flame
- Intense radiant heat
- Huge amounts of very thick toxic smoke
- Showers of burning embers
- Strong and erratic winds
It is extremely dangerous to be anywhere near a bushfire.
Careful trip planning that takes into account prevailing and potential bushfire risk, possible fire danger ratings and weather forecasts will minimise the risk of being caught in a bushfire. Avoid planning trips to high risk locations at high risk times or seasons.
All bushwalkers should have relevant State Emergency Apps installed on their mobile phone to receive fire and weather warnings: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria; West Australia.
After the trip is planned, the following local conditions need to be checked and monitored before the trip:
- Weather forecast
- Fire Danger Rating
- State Emergency App(s) or website(s) – to confirm there are no bushfires anywhere near the planned walk or along the access driving route.
Check each of these again immediately prior to departing to confirm it is safe to go.
If the Fire Danger Rating is CATASTROPHIC (CODE RED in Victoria), the trip MUST BE CANCELLED.
Do not go bushwalking, or driving in the bush. It is unsafe to visit rural areas. Doing so can put lives at risk and impose an unwarranted burden on Emergency Services. National Parks and other public lands are also closed on these days.
If the Fire Danger Rating is SEVERE or EXTREME
Trips such as these may be unsafe, particularly during a dry spell or in drought conditions:
- An extended walk through bushland away from any safe areas and with no escape routes.
- A trip requiring a long drive along a track through dense bush, with only one way in/out.
A safer trip could proceed, e.g. a coastal or riverside day walk on open terrain or beaches without heavy scrub and with multiple access and exit routes.
In addition to bushfire risk, bushwalking in hot and dry conditions carries risks of heat stress and potentially fatal heat stroke.
Careful trip planning and a preparedness to relocate or cancel a trip if adverse weather is forecast, Fire Danger Ratings are very high, or if a fire is already burning in the area, is crucial for minimising the risk of being caught in a bushfire.
References and acknowledgements
State Rural or Country Fire Service websites have a great deal of informative educational and explanatory material on bushfire safety.
Source material used in this article was accessed in April 2020.