Your yard can help you beat back bushfires this summer
The latest heatwave warning for Australia's northern regions signals the beginning of the summer bushfire season. Is your garden ready to handle the heat?
Thanks to this year's scorching hot El Nino, Australia has already seen raging bushfires claim more homes in the last two months than the entire 2022 summer season.
More than 120 homes were lost in October in regional parts of QLD, NSW and VIC - almost 100 more than last year's total.
In previous years, we have seen similar dry conditions claim the homes, businesses, communities and lives of many Aussies. Most recently, the 2019–20 fire season saw over 12 million hectares of land burnt, 34 people killed, and over 3100 homes lost, with many more severely damaged.
But all hope is not lost for regional homes caught in the firing line of bushfires. There are several steps you can take in your very own backyard to prepare your home for the impending blaze.
Building a flame-resistant fortress
According to Victoria's Country Fire Authority (CFA), your yard landscaping can actually be the difference between saving your home or losing it to the flames.
In their report, Landscaping for Bushfire, researchers said, "the location, type and ongoing maintenance of vegetation within a property have a significant impact on the bushfire risk to any house".
Stay up to date
Subscribe to our newsletter for useful news and information.
Processing your request...
You are subscribed now! please check your email to confirm your subscription.
"These factors can prevent the accumulation of debris and prevent the spread of fire towards a building."
From layout decisions to plant selection, the CFA says good yard design is key to creating a 'defendable space' when faced with a fire, reducing the intensity of the flames and the risk to the house.
Limit backyard fuel
When planning your garden layout and plantings, spreading out your plants can massively reduce the overall 'fuel' in your garden and slow a potential fire's rate of spread.
Try separating your plants into 'islands' in a 'sea' of non-combustible materials. This can be anything from gravel, mown lawns, driveways, and ponds to even sections dominated by plants with high moisture content, such as succulents.
Homeowners must identify and maintain a safe distance from combustible items such as organic mulches, flammable sheds, outdoor furniture, bins, wooden fences, timber stockpiles, and retaining walls.
Burning wooden fences can be especially dangerous in a bushfire, regularly collapsing against the house and becoming a lasting source of embers, heat, and flames.
Build radiant barriers
Employing radiant heat barriers is essential to slowing the spread of bushfires. Non-combustible structures like garden walls, fences, and fire-resistant tree species act as filters and obstacles against fires and embers, slowing their progression and shielding objects behind them from radiant heat.
As a general guideline, these barriers should be a distance twice their height from the house. Materials like rock and masonry, being non-combustible, are ideal for structures serving as radiant heat shields.
Choose the right plants
Plant selection is vital to reducing the bushfire anger in your backyard. Before planting, green thumb homeowners should consider a plant's moisture content, size, shape, and growth habit.
Plants with a higher moisture content, like succulents, aren't as likely to catch alight in a bushfire and can help stop the flame from advancing towards your home.
Homeowners should also check your property's surrounding plants and trees to test their flammability. When burn-offs are permitted, try setting a small piece of foliage from nearby plants and see how much they flare up.
Keep water on hand
It might seem obvious, but water is essential to fighting back the bushfires. Great for beating back flames at your door, water is also vital for keeping your surrounding vegetation wet and less flammable.
Think about installing dedicated water tanks for firefighting, even for properties connected to town water. Swimming pools and well-designed automatic sprinkler systems are also effective for home defence.
When confronted with a bushfire, both homeowners and firefighters must have access in and around the property to either evacuate or combat the flames.
Make sure you design clear pathways for people and vehicles, create accessible water points, and allow sufficient turning space for fire trucks. Substituting flammable fences with non-combustible alternatives like Colorbond can prevent blockages in narrow pathways caused by fire, facilitating firefighting efforts.
For more information on bushfire management, visit the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) website.