Hiking Safe in Bushfire Season: What You Need to Know
Hopefully the worst of the bushfires are over. Although Australia has always had bushfires, this season has been worse than usual. The amount of land affected across the country - more than 10 million hectares - is now comparable to England's land area of 13 million hectares.
Although recent cooler conditions and rain have brought some respite, more than 50 fires are still burning in the states of New South Wales and Victoria.
What have the fires burned?
In NSW fire has affected more than five million hectares, destroying more than 2,000 houses and forcing thousands to seek shelter elsewhere.
In Victoria, fires have burned 1.2 million hectares
In SA, two people and an estimated 25,000 koalas were killed when flames devastated Kangaroo Island in the state of South Australia on 9 January. Elsewhere in South Australia, the Cudlee Creek fire is reported to have destroyed more than 80 homes in the Adelaide Hills region in late December.
Fires are also thought to have destroyed up to a third of the vines that provide grapes for the Adelaide Hills wine industry.
With so much damage and destruction done to our gorgeous landscape, the areas affected are crying out for people to return. Businesses are suffering, tourism numbers have dropped and these places need our support.
Is it still safe to go hiking?
Unfortunately in Australia, the areas in which we like to hike in can often be places that are susceptible to bushfires.
Australian bushfire season starting on the 1st of October and officially lasting till end of March. While it is still Summer, we do have some less dangerous days and cooler weeks spattered in between which will most likely will spark an urge to set off hiking.
Before you decide to go, there are so important things to remember to keep yourself as safe as possible on your adventures.
Before you head out hiking you should check:
- Fire Danger Ratings and Bush Fire Alerts on the Fires Near Me Smartphone application
- Weather conditions at www.bom.gov.au
- Whether a Total Fire Ban or a National Park Fire Ban is in place
- If it’s a Total Fire Ban day, you will not be able to light a fire or use a stove, and many National Parks may be closed.
What is a Park Fire Ban?
National Parks and Wildlife Service put a Park Fire Ban in place when there are active fires or the potential for a fire to start. The area may have limited access, or very dry or overgrown areas that could cause a bush fire to move quickly.
IF THE CONDITIONS AREN’T GOOD, DON’T GO!
Take these steps before you go
- Tell someone where you plan to go and who is with you. Tell them when you return safely home.
- Consider carrying an Emergency Beacon. This will help emergency services locate you if necessary. Many local Police Stations and National Parks offices will offer these on either a fee or free basis.
- Save the Rural Fire Service information line number and Emergency 000 to your phone. Emergency 112 for mobile phones is for use when a phone is locked, has insufficient credit or your provider is unavailable.
- Note features on your map that may be a safe place to shelter from a fire and maintain your navigation so you always know where you are.
- Have someone in your group that knows how to treat burns, shock, asphyxiation, smoke inhalation, foreign matter in the eyes, and heat induced illness.
- Try to wear clothing that will protect you from radiant heat. Synthetic clothing can melt and burn skin severely.
PREPARE. ACT. SURVIVE
PREPARE. Make important decisions before you start
ACT. The higher the fire danger rating, the more dangerous the conditions
SURVIVE. Fires may threaten without warning so you need to know what to do to survive
If you’re caught In a fIre:
Call Triple Zero 000
Don’t panic, don’t try to outrun the fire
If you see smoke, turn back or find an alternate route
Find a cleared area. Look for rocks, hollows, embankments, streams or roads to protect you. Head to lower ground, avoid going uphill and do not shelter in water tanks
Keep low and cover your skin
Drink water and cover your mouth with a damp cloth
Move to burnt ground when the fire has passed
Let someone know what is happening.
As a LAST RESORT:
Choose a place with fairly clear ground and flames less than one metre deep and high. Take a deep breath, cover your face and run through the flames to already burnt ground.
Always Come Up with a Plan
One way you can ensure you have taken as many steps possible to ensure your safety on your hike is to plan in advance. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts and the fire danger levels, not just on the day of your hike but also on the days surrounding. Even if the weather is not extremely hot the day of your hike, hot weather, especially with hot winds, can leave the environment more prone to fires so it is important to be cautious. Not only is keeping up with the weather forecasts important, but also check the CFS website to see if your area is currently experiencing any fires. While they may not be huge, out of control fires, having an idea if the area you wish to hike on is in a dangerous area can give you a chance to either postpone your hike or consider changing the location. When planning your route, even if it is an area that has not been in the line of fire, there is no harm in taking note of where the fire breaks are, possible shelter is and where there are waterways, just in case disaster does strike. Another thing to take note of is air quality. Smoke can linger, and this can make your hike a lot more laborious than it needs to be, and even more dangerous, especially if it is thick and you are hiking up to higher altitudes. Fire is an unpredictable force so to have your escape route planned, even if the chance of fire is minuscule, is recommended for any hiker during fire season.
If you do decide to go on your hike, then there are some important things to consider as you prepare to go. Keep your mobile phone charged and bring back up power packs is very important. Having a charged mobile, with backup, is something that you should have whenever you go hiking for safety reasons, but it also is another way to keep up to date with information.
Strong, sturdy shoes as the track may not be as stable. Long sleeves and pants are also a good idea to pack, as if you do run into any issues, they can offer extra protection. Clothes from natural fibres are less inclined to melt or burn, so including the shoes you wear, having that extra layer of protection can come in handy if the worst does happen. It is important to note that during times of fire damage, water filtration is especially important. Waterways often transport runoff from other areas, so any issues upstream are sure to make their way downstream. Before filling up your bottle, make sure you have the right equipment to filter your water before you use it.
CNOC Vecto 2l water bladder to collect dirty water
Sawyer Micro Squeeze filter to filter into your clean water carrier
The last thing you want on your hike is to be constantly stressing out about bushfire. While it is important to relax, it is just as important to stay alert. The smell of smoke, the sound of emergency service vehicles- any signs that danger could be not so far away, be prepared to engage your action plan and get out as quickly as possibly can. Listen to any alerts on the radio, take heed of any emergency warnings and the important thing is to just be smart.
As hikers, we are able to experience a wonderful part of nature on a regular basis, but nature is unpredictable- just like with every hike, some things can go wrong so by being prepared, having the right equipment and keeping our wits about us, no matter what comes our way we have a way to handle it.
Where can I find bushfire warnings?
NSW & ACT
NSW Rural Fire Service publish details of bushfires and hazard reduction burns online. Download the NSW Rural Fire Service Fires near Me app on Apple App store or Google Play for Android for information on the go in New South Wales and the ACT.
Vic Emergency lists all Victorian emergency warnings. You can also download the FireReady app from this site. FireReady is the official Victorian Government app for access to timely, relevant and tailored bushfire warnings and information in Victoria.
Rural Fire Service Queensland lists bushfire warnings with an interactive map.
The South Australian Country Fire Service lists incidents and warnings on its website.
Tasmania Fire Service lists bushfire warnings with an interactive map.
Western Australia Emergency WA features an interactive map with cyclone, flood and bush fire warnings.
ABC Emergency is the official broadcaster for fire and emergency warnings.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand National is the unified rural and urban fire service with fire safety information. Ring 111 in an emergency. Met Service lists New Zealand official weather forecasts and weather warnings.
For more information visit: https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/3117/Bush-Fire-Safety-for-Bushwalking-Factsheet.pdf