How to survive a bushfire

Many people survived Australia's deadliest bushfires at the weekend because they did what others would have thought insane: standing their ground and not fleeing.

Kevin Tolhurst, a "fire-behaviour specialist" who helped authorities track the infernos, said the golden rule of surviving forest fires - evacuate early or fight to the bitter end - still stood, despite the weekend's record death toll of 126.

The University of Melbourne expert, who has studied bushfires at close quarters for 20 years, said many victims appear to have been ill prepared or to have fled at the worst time.

He gave these guidelines on how to survive an inferno:

UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE UP AGAINST

Australian forest fires are terrifying, partly because native eucalypt forests spew lots of embers. In the infernos north of Melbourne, flames reached up to 50 metres (yards), creating a life-threatening zone of up to 200 metres (roughly four times the flame height) ahead of the fire front. Here, people can suffocate as heat sears the lungs, rendering them unable to function.

ESCAPE EARLY OR FIGHT TO THE END

This is the golden rule of survival in Australia's fire-prone countryside, but Tolhurst suspects it is misunderstood. Those who do not flee early must have prepared their properties well for the battle and be brave enough to keep up the fight. This means hosing down roofs and stamping out embers, anything to prevent the house from igniting, even though it may seem hopeless.

"Houses, just because of their mass, take a while to catch alight, but once they are alight they will burn with enormous intensity," Tolhurst said. "You really need to be defending yourself," he added, explaining that a house could survive if it was still in good shape by the time the fire-front raced through.

PREPARE WELL

There is no point defending a house against wild fires unless its perimeter has been cleared of flammable material, including trees, shrubs and garden beds. "You must have a safe area to work in so you can do some small-scale suppression and reduce the spot fires," Tolhurst said. Otherwise, you should evacuate while you still can. A car is a very bad place to be in a fire: "A car heats up too much. It's such a small volume of space."

GOING UNDERGROUND IS NO GUARANTEE

One man and his wife survived sheltering in a cellar, but Tolhurst said underground bunkers offered no assurance of survival, especially if they were beneath a burning house and could fill with searing heat and carbon-dioxide.

SURVIVING THE HORRIFYING CLIMAX

A fire-front can take 10-15 minutes to pass over a house, during which time you should stay away from windows where the heat radiation is most intense. Don't douse yourself and your clothes with water because you could suffer serious burns as the water close to your skin boils. Protect your lungs by breathing through a handkerchief. "The best thing is to move around and make sure embers are not coming under the door," Tolhurst said.

THE EXPERT'S VERDICT

"It's a bit hard unless you have actually experienced a bushfire. A lot of people stay and then see how scary it is and say 'there's no way I'm staying here' and then take off. We know from experience that the strategy of staying with your house, provided it is protected and well prepared, works well - though nothing can give you a 100 percent guarantee."

Sport
formula oneLive lap-by-lap coverage of championship decider
News
Lily Allen performs on stage at Splendour In the Grass 2014 on 27 July, 2014, in Byron Bay, Australia
people
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
Sport
Manny Pacquiao lands a blow on Chris Algieri
Pacquiao retains WBO welterweight title – and says he wants Mayweather next
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
News
i100
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin