Protect people at risk: fire survival guidance - wildfire

Control Measure Knowledge

This control measure should be read in conjunction with:

The advice and guidance given to people at risk trapped by a wildfire will depend on the situation they are in and whether they have time to plan for an evacuation. Guidance for people at risk will include:

  • Evacuating the area early
  • Seeking shelter in a building
  • Seeking shelter in a car
  • Seeking shelter in the open
  • Evacuating from a place of shelter

Evacuating the area early

Fire control personnel may receive calls from people at risk seeking advice about a wildfire that is developing in their area. Early evacuation will always be the safest option in this circumstance. It should be recognised that even though this is the safest option people at risk may be unwilling to leave their property as they want to stay and protect it.

When preparing to evacuate, people at risk should consider how they are going to evacuate, their evacuation route and where they are evacuating to. A co-ordinated multi agency approach to evacuating people at risk may be implemented which should be considered by people at risk.

Local authority guidance and instructions may be given if people need to evacuate to a public shelter. The internet, social media and local news stations may broadcast local authority warnings, updates and instructions. Pre prepared instructions and guidance sheets can be held electronically in the control room and be shared with people at risk to support the advice fire control personnel give to evacuate the area early.

People at risk should consider taking items with them which will help them during their evacuation however this should not cause a delay or put people at additional risk. These items include:

  • A torch with spare batteries, preferably waterproof if possible
  • Appropriate clothing such as a wide brimmed hat, eye protection, sturdy leather boots or shoes, long trousers, long sleeved top and gloves
  • First aid kit with manual
  • Candles with matches, preferably waterproof matches if possible
  • Blankets
  • Emergency contact numbers
  • Cash, ATM or credit cards
  • Medications, toiletries and sanitary supplies
  • Special requirements for infants or the elderly and people who are injured or disabled
  • Mobile phone and charger
  • Combination pocket knife
  • Change of clothes for everyone
  • Food
  • Drinking water

Companion animals should also be considered and should wear an identification tag. Items such as a leash, basket, pet medication, food and a familiar toy should be taken.

Sheltering in a building

People at risk of a wildfire may seek shelter in a building rather than evacuating the area. This could be through choice, or because they do not have time to evacuate the area safely. A structure should offer more protection than a car so people at risk should try to seek shelter in a home, outbuilding or building.

The guidance given to people sheltering in a building will be to protect them from the wildfire that is passing by. If the building they are sheltering in catches fire they should try to leave and go outside to ground that has already been burnt or ground with little vegetation or fire loading if possible.

If they are unable to leave and are trapped inside, then fire survival guidance for people at risk trapped in a building fire should be given.

People at risk may speak to fire control personnel in anticipation of the wildfire reaching them. Proactive advice and guidance detailed below can be given to support them in preparing the building for the arrival of the wildfire but consideration should be given to ask the people at risk to call back if and when the fire arrives.

Store water

Sinks, bath tubs and buckets should be filled with cold water in case the water supply is cut off. This can be used to put out small fires that may start in or around the home caused by embers. The water could also be used to flush toilets and drink if suitable.

Prepare extinguishing products

If available, sprinklers and hoses should be placed strategically around the building and turned on to wet the shelter and surroundings when the fire is approaching. People should not access the roof to hose down the building.

Fire extinguishers should be out and ready to use.

Move furniture and clear the area

Any outdoor furniture or flammable materials should be moved away from the building. This includes vehicles, recreational equipment, outdoor seating and firewood. Cylinders such as gas for BBQ’s should also be moved away from the building if it is safe to do so. This will reduce the potential of fire spread to the building.

Indoor furniture should be moved away from windows or glass doors as radiant heat may cause these items to ignite.

Where possible and if time allows, dry brambles and vegetation should be cleared and moved away from the building.

Open gates

Gates should be opened to prevent flames from spreading from a fence to a building. When the fire arrives and passes by the building, the noise will be fierce and there will be an increase in temperature. People at risk should resist the urge to flee and continue to stay inside and seek shelter as per the advice given by fire control personnel.

Although it will be extremely hot inside the building, it can be four or five times hotter outside. If the building catches fire, guidance and advice should be given as per the hazard ‘calls from or about people at risk trapped in a building fire’. If the whole of the building is in the path of the wildfire, the room people at risk gather in should be in the centre of the building and they should stay away from windows and glass doors.

If the wildfire is approaching one side of the building, people at risk should shelter in a room on the opposite side.

Where possible a room with a clear access to an exit should also be considered.

Seeking shelter in a vehicle  

People at risk may be travelling on foot or in a vehicle when they become affected by a wildfire. If a building is not available to seek shelter in then sheltering in a vehicle should be considered. This will be safer than being in the open where people will be directly exposed to flames and radiant heat.

Vehicles should be parked off the road behind a solid structure to block as much heat as possible. If a solid structure is not available, park in a clear area away from trees, scrub and tall grass as this is the fuel for the wildfire.

The front of the vehicle should face towards the fire if the location of the fire is known, the engine should be turned off and hazard lights and headlights should be put on. This will make the car more visible in heavy smoke and reduce the risk of a road traffic collision with other vehicles that may be in the area.

Windows, doors and air vents should all be closed as this will help to reduce the amount of smoke entering the vehicle.

People should cover themselves with blankets or coats and get low as possible in the car. Lying in the footwell or in a space below the windows will protect them from radiant heat.

Placing cloth objects over the mouth and nose can reduce the inhalation of smoke.

People should stay down low and inside the vehicle until the sound of the fire has passed and the outside temperature drops. Once they are confident that the fire has passed, they should be able to leave the car, taking care as the vehicle may be hot. Once the vehicle has been exited safely, people should make their way to ground that has already been burnt or ground with little vegetation or fire loading if possible.

People should not attempt to drive the vehicle due to potential damage caused by the wildfire such as melted brakes, hoses and fuel tanks.

Seeking shelter in the open

There may be occasions where people are caught outside when a wildfire approaches and they are unable to seek shelter in a building or vehicle.

Exposed skin should be covered up with natural fabrics as these are less flammable than synthetic fabrics. Examples of natural fabric include wool, cotton and silk. Synthetic fabrics include nylon, polyester, acrylic and rayon. In the absence of natural fabrics synthetic fabric may offer some protection from fire.

People should try and hide behind a solid object such as a concrete wall or building to block the radiant heat but stay away from glass if any is present in the solid object.

If people are unable to hide behind a solid object, then an area clear of vegetation or a ditch should be found that is on level ground if possible. People should lie face down and cover up their body with things such as damp vegetation or soil.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions