Prepare for fire on the farm

Check machinery for build up of flammable plant material.

Cardinia Shire is heading into the remainder of the fire danger period with the horror of the flames fresh in our collective mind, thanks to the awful scenes flowing in from our neighbours in East Gippsland and those we remember from last year. For those in the shire who live on the land, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate and manage the risk of fire for the benefit of those who live there, as DANIELLE KUTCHEL reports.

Ensure your property is easily accessible by emergency services if needed… Make sure the property name and number is clearly visible.

The 2019 bushfires in Bunyip State Park brought home for many residents the fact that in Cardinia Shire, the fire threat is never far away.

The shire has an incredibly diverse landscape, ranging from hills and forest to the north, to rural farmland to the east. In fact, according to id.com.au, 65 per cent of land in Cardinia is used for primary production, including beef, dairy, fruit and vegetables.

While much of Cardinia Shire is earmarked for urban development in future, the large chunk still being used in agriculture and horticulture means that among the population are farmers and their families, both furred and human, all of whom need to know what to do in the event of a catastrophic fire like those seen last year.

For starters, as with any property, there is a need to develop a comprehensive plan for fire risk management and evacuation.

And with the worst of the fire season not yet over, it’s still possible to get on the front foot and develop a plan that you can follow this year.

This plan should be written down and should cover all of your on-farm activities. You might find it useful to distribute it to other workers or family members on your property so that everyone is on the same page, especially because, as the CFA notes, farm managers have a legal responsibility for the safety of all people on their property whether living there or simply working or visiting.

Write down what to do if you need to get out, and what your trigger for leaving will be – then stick to it.

If you plan on staying and defending your property, be prepared for the conditions: establish a water supply that’s independent to the mains, of at least 10,000 litres. Make sure the areas around your assets, such as the house and outbuildings, are clear of fuel loads, and keep fuel away from the house. Conduct a stocktake of your animals, fences and feed, and keep the records off the property.

It’s important to remember too that many farming activities are not allowed on days of Total Fire Ban while others are restricted during the entire CFA-declared Fire Danger Period, which is typically from November to April.

Prepare yourself for days of Total Fire Ban. Know what district you are in and follow CFA advice for your area.

If essential works are required for an agricultural business on a Total Fire Ban day, the owner must apply for a Section 40 permit from the CFA.

Cardinia Shire Council or the CFA can assist with advice regarding permits for fire-risk activities during these periods.

Permits are required for:

  • Clearing roadside fuel (except mowing)
  • Removing native vegetation
  • Burning off during the Fire Danger Period
  • Using fire in a fire protected area
  • Using a gas-powered wildlife scaring gun
  • Operating cutting and welding equipment on a Total Fire Ban day

It is the responsibility of the farmer to make sure they don’t start a fire. Extreme caution should be exercised on hot, dry days before undertaking activities like slashing, welding, grinding, mowing or harvesting. Paddock work should be postponed during high fire-risk periods.

The CFA recommends making it a routine to check machinery for build-up of plant material, and to maintain spark arrestors.

Haystack fires are another danger on farms, as the material within the haystack decomposes.

The CFA recommends ensuring that hay is fully cured before bailing and keeping stacks away from sources of ignition. During cutting and moving, the vehicle’s exhaust system should have a fire-resistant cover on the load, a spark shield or be located under the vehicle to ensure emissions are kept away from the hay.

A common complaint following a natural disaster is that the insurance money wasn’t enough to cover the cost of replacing a livelihood. For this reason, it pays to check your insurance each year when the renewal comes in. Know what you are covered for and make a realistic calculation of how much it would cost to replace your house, equipment, outbuildings, fencing and machinery if the worst were to happen.

Animals can sense the fear and danger of fire just as well as humans can, so farmers need to have a plan in place for livestock management in the event of a fire or evacuation.

The CFA recommends providing a large, well-grazed area for animals with a supply of water like a dam.

Horses should have all gear removed, and they should be kept contained to your property so that they aren’t at risk on the roads.

Equines need a large, open space to avoid bushfires, and if they have this room, and if it has minimal vegetation, they can be good at avoiding the danger.

Ensure access points to these evacuation areas are free of obstructions and can be easily operated.

Consider an area for these animals to be fed after the fire too.

When writing your fire plan, include any household pets and their needs. Prepare an emergency kit for them, including a carrier, details of your preferred vet and emergency vet, a favourite toy, woollen blanket, medication and food and water.

Agriculture Victoria recommends practising your fire plan for animals. For example, practise loading your animals onto a truck or float, and hitching the trailer to your vehicle.

Ensure your animal identification is up to date and correct – including microchips, registration, National Livestock Identification System and Property Identification Code details – and keep these details and insurance information in your emergency kit.

If you will be evacuating your animals to an external location, know the best and safest route to get there. Remember leaving early is the safest option.

Finally, ensure your property is easily accessible by emergency services if needed. Make sure the property name and number is clearly visible, clearly mark the water supplies around your property and consider whether the access you’ve provided could be improved, for example by clearing vegetation, creating turning circles or signposting dead ends.

For more information on how to prepare your farm for fire, visit cfa.vic.gov.au, agriculture.vic.gov.au or contact your local CFA brigade.

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