Bushfire Considerations 

Bushfires might be part and parcel of living on this wide brown land, but their impact can be devastating. These key considerations can help you prepare for bushfires. 

 

Bushland may regenerate quickly following bushfire, communities often don’t

 

We may love a sunburnt country, but all too often Australian communities face the devastation of bushfires. Around 50 million hectares of land are burnt, thousands of people are impacted, and millions of animals perish in bushfires each year. The economic costs stretch into the billions.

 

Prepare your property

Despite the fact that bushfires are a natural part of life in Australia, it is critical to take proactive steps to improve the resilience of your property to bushfires:

  • Know the fire risks in the area.
  • Speak with the local authority and emergency services about the community’s emergency plans, warning signals, evacuation routes and locations of emergency shelters.
  • Inspect the property and eliminate potential hazards – your state/territory fire emergency service will have a comprehensive checklist of what should be done. At a minimum:
    • Clear your firebreaks. If your property is in a rural area, DFES recommends creating a 20-metre building protection zone by clearing away long grass, shrubs, and any rubbish that might catch fire.
    • Clean out gutters and roof gullies of leaves and other debris. Install metal gutter guards.
    • Mow the grass regularly.
    • Prune trees that overhang the property. Keep a 2-metre gap between the property and any tree branches. Prune lower branches of trees to prevent a fire on the ground from climbing into the tree canopy.
    • Remove excess ground fuel.
    • Eliminate any combustible materials or flammable liquids from around and under the property.
    • Seal up any areas where embers could enter the property such as underfloor, roof eaves, roof-mounted external air-conditioners, or windows without metal flyscreens.
    • Determine the risk of ignition from nearby combustible structures such as outbuildings, neighbouring buildings, fencing, or decking.
    • If you have a pool, tank, or dam, put a Static Water Supply (SWS) sign at your property entrance, so firefighters know where to find water to pump out during a bushfire.
  • Regularly check safety devices on the property such as smoke alarms, sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers.
  • Make sure the property has enough personal protective clothing and equipment.
  • Check hoses are long enough to reach all areas of the building.
  • Know how to disconnect the property’s gas, water, and electricity.
  • Ensure there is clear access into and out of the property in the event of a fire.
  • Prepare a disaster plan including the location of a safe place to go; what to do if there is an emergency; compile a comprehensive contacts list including emergency services, family/friends, medical services and vet; put important papers in a fireproof box (store electronic copies on a secured portable device and/or to the cloud); and have an emergency kit (first-aid supplies, torch, battery-powered radio, medications, water, non-perishable food, change of clothes and essential toiletries etc.).
  • Have an evacuation plan and make sure everyone at the property knows how to leave quickly; all escape routes in case the preferred route is not accessible; what to take when they leave; what to do before leaving the property (e.g. turn off services, turn on sprinklers); safe places to go, what to do with pets and animals etc.

 

Insurance matters

From an insurance perspective, it is important to understand that when a bushfire is imminent, it is too late to take out cover or update an existing policy (embargoes are usually enacted when the risk of bushfire is known and losses are expected). This means early risk planning is important:

  • Ensure the policy is up-to-date (premium is paid) and the level of cover (sums insured) are adequate (see our tips on avoiding underinsurance).
  • Check what risks will be covered under the policy and under what circumstances, especially when it comes to fire damage.
  • Understand the policy – the inclusions and exclusions, limitations, and excesses applicable.
  • Understand the policyholder’s obligations under cover, such as
    • loss mitigation clauses, which generally state that you are required to make reasonable efforts to prevent further damage occurring at the premises; and
    • maintenance clauses, as failure to adequately maintain the premises can void the policy or reduce any payout from the insurer in the event of a loss.
  • Prepare a property inventory (keep copies of proof of ownership off-site).

 

Claims assistance

If you have been caught in a bushfire and need to claim:

  • Contact your broker as soon as possible to start the claims process.
  • As soon as it is safe to do so, take steps to minimise losses such as putting a tarp over a damaged roof or moving undamaged possessions to safety.
  • Check with your broker before authorising any emergency repairs.
  • You can start cleaning up but be sure to take photos/video of damage to the property and possessions as evidence for the claim.
  • Keep samples of materials and fabrics to show to the insurance assessor.
  • Don’t throw out any damaged items unless they pose a health risk (like saturated carpets) as the insurer will determine if the item will be repaired or replaced. If the item does pose a risk, document the damage with photos/video and retain a sample.
  • Make a list of damaged or destroyed items with detailed descriptions (e.g. brand, make, model, serial number).
  • Store damaged or destroyed items somewhere safe so the loss adjustor can view them.

The best chance of recovering from a bushfire is to plan ahead and ensure the property is adequately insured.

 

 

Source: Bureau of Meteorology

http://media.bom.gov.au/social/blog/50/australias-bushfire-seasons/


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