Thursday, January 16, 2014

Protecting Your Home From The Threat Of Bushfires

Image courtesy of CFA Vicotria

Bush fires during the Australian summertime are frequent events due to our hot, dry climate.

In 2009, Victoria endured Australia's worst ever natural disaster with more than 2,000 properties destroyed and countless others damaged when bush fires ripped through the state.

October last year, saw NSW hit by extreme bush fires with around 248 buildings destroyed.

Currently WA is enduring it's worst bushfire since 2011 with 55 homes lost to the raging fires so far.

Our hearts go out to all the victims of these terrible disasters and the amazing teams of firefighters working hard and risking their lives to get the fires under control.

As the temperatures continue to climb this week we've put together some tips that the Government Fire Authorities recommend for preparing your home, (if you haven't already) in order to give it a greater chance of survival if a bushfire comes your way.


The most common belief when it comes to bush fires, is that the trees play the role of the major threat. However this is not the case. Fire is actually carried by the undergrowth below the trees, such as grasses, leaf litter and shrubs. All plants are flammable, but some are worse than others, so make sure to review the vegetation on your property and take action where needed. Government Fire Authorities suggest:

  • Any vegetation that is less than 6mm in thickness or diameter should be reduced.
  • Closely compacted shrubs should be removed if they are close to your house. If these shrubs are located near any windows and happen to catch on fire, they can crack the glass and allow embers inside. Shrubs should also be pruned regularly where they are found underneath the lower branches of trees.
  • Trim or remove any loose, flaky bark, sticks, leaves or needles on your trees and shrubs. This bark can lead a fire to climb higher, adding height to flames and allowing embers a greater chance to move and ignite elsewhere
  • Keep your lawn mowed, the leaves raked and removed and your garden beds free from weeds.
  • When it's windy, take notice of where any leaf litter accumulates. This is where any embers will land if the wind takes them the same way so be sure to keep these areas clear.
  • Regularly clear out your gutters and if you can, cover them with mesh to guard them from fallen leaves.


No landscape is completely fire proof, but there are many things you can do during the design phase of your garden that can help you achieve a greater level of bushfire protection for your home. Elements we always consider in bush fire risk areas are:

  • The use of permeable gravel pathways. These create fuel breaks between the planting and if you have a sprinkler system in place can help the water to move through the surface and dampen other areas you may have missed. An open gravel space surrounding the home is also a good way to stop fire from reaching the house.
  • When you create a planting plan, be sure to space out all the plants and trees to avoid a continuous canopy of vegetation to your house. If you make small, spaced out clusters of plants with clear areas in between, this makes it difficult for fires to spread to other areas. 
Gravel paths surround the house at this property in Wandin North


During a fire, the most effective fire suppressant will always be water, so ensuring that your property has enough is integral. There are a number of water storage options available but the ones we use most commonly in our gardens are tanks and our billabongs.


In terms of how much water storage you need for your tank, the CFA recommends having enough water to last for at least 2 hours of continuous use. This will be completely determined by the size of your property of course, so if you are interested in finding out what size you need, why not speak to our friends at TankWorks. They supplied the tank we used in our award-winning Chelsea garden and have some fantastic sustainable tanks available.

TankWorks tank featured in the Trailfinders Australian Garden Presented By Flemings Nurseries

While also providing a cool refuge for wildlife during the fire season and a place for rejuvenation after fires have passed, our billabongs can also operate as a fire-protection system. Used in conjunction with storage tanks full of previously stored rainwater run off, our billabongs provide natural harvested water which can be pumped into hoses and sprinkler systems to protect your home.

Phil's billabong in Olinda
Sprinkler Systems
  • Phil himself, owns a 12,000 litre fire tank, which, along with the billabong below the house, connects to a fire-suppression system that curtains his entire home in a wall of water and can be accessed remotely.
  • Sprinkler systems like this are an excellent way to extinguish any embers that land on or around your home and Government Fire Authorities believe they should be considered as a very important part of your bushfire survival plan especially if you are living in an area with dense vegetation.

Phil's home in Olinda with sprinkler system running
Close up of the sprinkler system in action

These are just a few tips for preparing your property for a fire. For further information on what your local Fire Authority recommends, visit your State or Territory website: 








Ultimately, however, the lives of you and your family are the most important thing to consider, so make sure you all have a clear understanding of when you will leave your property, and leave as early as you can. The longer you wait to leave, the greater the risk to your life.

From everyone at PJL- stay safe this summer!


  1. Extrinsic factors, such as sprinklers, may not be effective for a number of reasons including mechanical failure, power outage (common in bushfire attack) and if residents are not there there may be problems of not being able to trigger the sprinklers. Perhaps most of Victoria generally receives more rain over summer than we do in SW WA, but we can expect very dry conditions over summer, e.g. we have only had 1 mm to date this year in Balingup in the inland SW. I would worry about the tall eucalypts close to the house because of their constant dropping of litter especially over summer - bark strips, leaves, twigs and gum nuts - all inflammable. It's one thing to recommend raking away leaves, it's another to do this conscientiously every few days over summer. It's a lot easier to remove trees with volatile oils, such as eucalypts, at least 50 m from the house, better 100 m. Another factor is that an intense bushfire with flames crowning in forest trees would carry the flames close to a house if eucalypts are in the vicinity.
    Peta Townsing

  2. This was so useful and informative. The article helped me to learn something new. Fire Safety System Chennai