Many years ago I was rafting the Snowy River when a fire appeared on the ridges above us. We’d been seeing smoke all morning, but that afternoon things decidedly got worse. Luckily we were on a river, albeit a trickle of its former self. That night, with smoke thick around us, we chose a wide sandy bank down beside the water for our fretful camp.
More recently we were in the Vic High Country and as we climbed out of the Wonnangatta River valley, my phone pinged. It was our ‘VicEmergency’ app telling me that a bushfire was burning out of control not all that far away. We had to change our travel plans after that.
And in 2019 we were up on Cape York with a group of fellow travellers when we passed through an area of burning scrub country. Such dry season fires are a regular occurrence in our tropics, but that did little to quell the rising concern of many of the group who hailed from down south where fires aren’t considered friendly at all.
While camping over the summer months can be great fun for all the family, to make it safe for everyone concerned it’ll pay to take a few precautions and that means even before you leave home.
So, prior to jumping into the 4WD for that summer getaway — be it for a day, a week or longer — check what the current fire risk levels are for the area you are planning to visit and check the park websites for any fire warnings and closures.
Many areas will be subject to total fire bans and you need to know what you can and cannot do on a Total Fire Ban days. Understand too, the different levels of Fire Danger Ratings used throughout Australia; you can do this by Googling: ‘CFA Fire Danger Ratings brochure’.
Parks, forests and reserves, if the last few years are anything to go by, will be closed due to extreme fire danger, so it pays to check before you set out. You could save yourself a wasted journey. And if you were thinking about a forest camp or somewhere remote surrounded by scrub, and the day looks like it’ll be classed as ‘Extreme’ or ‘Code Red’, I’d rethink the whole adventure again.
When you are out in the scrub or travelling through fire-prone regions, I’d be listening to local radio stations for a check on the weather, fire bans and any active fires in your area. And if you’re in mobile phone range, keep a close eye on the state’s fire service phone apps, such as the ‘VicEmergency’ or the ‘FiresNearMe’ apps.
Finally, if you are out in the bush and are caught in a fire, here’s what you need to do, according to the Caravan and Camping Bush Fire Safety brochure put out by the NSW Rural Fire Service:
- Call Triple Zero if you can.
- Park off the road in a clear area away from trees.
- Face the car towards the fire.
- Stay in the car and get down below the windows to protect yourself and the rest of the occupants from radiant heat.
- Turn off the engine and turn on headlights and hazard lights.
- Close windows and vents.
- Cover everyone with woollen blankets.
- Drink water.
- Cover your mouth with a damp cloth if there is smoke.
- Stay down until the sound of the fire has passed then carefully leave the car – remembering everything outside will be hot!
Play it safe in summer. And be very careful with any campfire, making sure it is completely and utterly out when you leave it unattended!