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Camping in a Fire Ban

Every now and then, a fire ban is announced smack-bang in the middle of our holidays. But let’s face it: this is Australia and bushfires happen. So, as seasoned travellers, it shouldn’t come as any great surprise. The issue is, how do we plan to stay safe while caravanning or camping during a total fire ban? We thought we’d share some top-tips.

TIP 1: LISTEN-UP

ABC Travellers guide brochure

While getting ‘off the grid’ may be our usual camping style, in a total fire ban we would be better off staying somewhere where we have access to the information needed to stay safe. For example, the local ABC radio will broadcast emergency advice if there are fires nearby. Having a copy of the Traveller’s Guide to ABC Radio in our glovebox means we’ll have no difficulty finding the right frequency. And with our devices, we can link to weather reports through Elders Rural, the Bureau of Meteorology, etc.

TIP 2: SITE IT RIGHT

Mother and Daughter enjoyinga meal in the high country outside a cottage beside a campertrailer

Appropriately placing our camp-site is always important, but there are some additional factors to consider. Clearly it makes sense to camp in open areas rather than hunkering-down within the scrub. Enclosed valleys are also a no-no. They can act as fire funnels and they make it difficult to see smoke that will give a clear warning of developing fire hazards in the next valley. Whatever we do, we need to ensure that we have more than one route out of a campsite. And if in doubt, get out.

TIP 3: GET THE KIT

Fire saftey kit containing extinguisher, spade, fire blanket and rake

Fire extinguishers and a fire blanket are a no-brainer. And there’s a range of other bits of gear that make great safety sense. Burn-over blankets are light and pack-down small. Think of them as a space-aged version of a woollen blanket to provide personal protection against fire. Similarly, a fire rake (or McLasky Tool) is something we’ll want close-by if we need to create a makeshift firebreak. While we may think that we’ll never allow ourselves to be this exposed to a fire, it makes good survival sense to plan for the worst-case scenario; the alternative is unforgivable. Besides a lot of us already carry a rake to clean the site up on establishing camp, so why not choose a fire rake instead?

TIP 4: JURY DUTY

The destruction of fire, two 4WD's burn and destroyed due to a bush fire

While you may reckon you’re equipped for all eventualities, remember that fire bans may stop you in your tracks. Did you know, for example, that you may be prohibited from using a chainsaw or generator on a total fire ban day due to the risk that it may spark a fire? Laws differ from state to state, but in some places during a Total Fire Ban you can’t go four wheel driving recreationally. Remember, too, that severe fines can be associated with carelessly discarding cigarettes or matches during a fire ban. In WA, you risk a $25,000 fine and/or 12 months in jail for being a tosser. And in NSW, lighting a fire or BBQ during a Total Fire Ban attracts an on-the-spot fine of $2200. Leave it to the courts, and there are big fines and jail sentences ‘on the books’.

TIP 5: DRINK UP

Hydration fluids and tablets and bananas

If a Total Fire Ban has been called, then the odds are that it’s hot. So, while a refreshing dip in the local river may leave us feeling refreshed, we still need to remain hydrated. Keep a particularly close eye on people with illnesses and medical conditions, children and the elderly who are more susceptible to heat stroke.

TIP 6: STAY FLEXIBLE

Helicopters parked at the base of mountains

We all get ideas in our heads about where we want to travel and where we want to camp when we hit the open road. But we need to understand that Mother Nature’s plans may ‘trump’ our own. A Total Fire Ban may now influence our choice of destination – and our campsites. In bushland and in agricultural areas, local councils may implement Vehicle Movement Bans extending to our four-wheeled or two-wheeled forms of transport. And remember too, if a bushfire gets near a highway, the thoroughfare may be closed entirely to avoid unnecessary risks to travellers. So you may need a ‘Plan B’.

TIP 7: LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE

4WD towing a camper trailer parked outside a cottage in the high country

We say “so what?” if we don’t get to sit around a roaring campfire as we’d hoped. The stars will look brighter when the campsite’s dark, and their fires burn at around 15 million degrees Celsius which sounds like a spectacle to us. And if we aren’t able to reach the destination we’d planned, we can make the best of the destinations that are still available during a Total Fire Ban. Who knows, we may find a hidden treasure that we never expected.

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