Over the past two months NSW has been gripped by bushfires and extreme conditions. Driving in any crisis whether bushfires, medical emergencies or weather events can be life threatening.
The best plan is to leave early in a bushfire. Driving during a bushfire is extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury or death; always plan to leave early to avoid this situation.
One of the most important things in any emergency is to remain calm. Adrenaline levels will be high causing the flight/ fight response. This prevents clear thinking and problem solving to occur, instead we go into defence mode. Keep breathing and remain calm so you can work the solution out for each situation.
Heavy smoke or extreme weather will decrease driving visibility to possibly one metre in front, using your hazard lights will be more effective than high beam which will create a bounce back effect. Treat smoke like fog situations by lowering your speed and driving with hazard lights on, often using the reflective markers on the road surface as guidance. Red markers are edge markers or do not go areas, white markers are centre and edge lines, yellow markers are do not overtake areas. These can be used like an airport runway to help guide you to safety. Car navigators can also assist in knowing where you are as visibility may disorientate you.
The second important point is to ensure your car is always maintained and road worthy, this will be part of your bush fire plan. Trying to leave in an emergency with a car that is not functioning properly is not going to give you the positive outcome you're looking for. Ensuring the car has enough fuel, good tyres and a working battery will give you more confidence in your exit plan.
In the case of bushfire prone areas, it is recommended to carry a pure wool blanket in the car as this can protect you in the case of ember strikes and radiant heat. Having a survival kit in the car can assist in any emergency. This may include a first aid kit, face masks for smoke inhalation and water. Having suitable clothing is just as important to protect from the fire - long sleeves, wool and natural fibres, fully covered.
A handy tool to have in the car for situations such as flood and car accidents, is a seat belt cutter that also doubles to smash windows for escape. This can be kept in the door well of the driver's door for access. These are available in most auto shops. However, if you do not have this device, the best item in your car to break a window is to remove the head rest from your seat and use the metal prongs to smash the window for escape.
The following are advice measures from RFS (NSW) and CFA (Vic), however it must be stressed these are measures taken if caught in these situations, the best plan is to LEAVE EARLY.
Take the following actions if you encounter smoke or flames and are not able to turn around and drive to safety:
- Position the car to minimise exposure to radiant heat:
- Park away from dense bush - try to find a clearing.
- If possible, park behind a barrier such as a wall or rocky outcrop.
- The car should ideally face towards the oncoming fire front.
- Park off the roadway and turn hazard lights on. Car crashes are common in bushfires due to poor visibility
To increase your chances of survival:
- Stay in the car, and tightly close windows and doors.
- Cover up with woollen blankets and get down below window level - this is your highest priority.
- Drink water to prevent dehydration.
As soon as you become aware that the fire front is close by:
- Shut all vents and turn the air conditioning off
- Turn the engine off, have headlights and hazard lights on