Unit blocks in bushfires – we are not immune


At the risk of appearing to jump on the bushfire bandwagon – it’s pretty hard to ignore. Homes and even lives are being lost.  Whole towns are under threat but, it has to be said, most strata buildings are safe from the flames, if not because of their location, then because of their design.

But we are not entirely immune from danger or disruption. Consider this, the two major cladding fires in Australia claimed zero lives partly because the buildings had sprinkler systems inside the flats.

But most apartment blocks in rural towns don’t meet the height requirement for sprinkler systems, so they could be at risk from flying embers if the blocks are not properly prepared.

We had a look for specific advice for apartment residents in country towns and outer suburbs but found nothing. So here is our guide to protecting your strata block in bushfire-threatened areas.

Get the crap off the balcony

The aforementioned cladding fires started with carelessly discarded cigarettes setting light to stuff that had been left on the balcony.  Imagine if you have burning embers from a bushfire landing on yours. Embers from fires can travel a kilometre or more in a strong wind.  Don’t leave anything out there that they could set alight.

Put the barbie’s gas cylinder somewhere safe

OK, you’ve cleared your balcony but the people next door or below you haven’t done theirs. If their patio furniture goes up, you don’t want to tempt fate with flames licking around your gas bottle.

Think about your lifts

There’s a chance that even if the flames don’t get anywhere near your home, they could knock out power in your town. That means your lifts are going nowhere (unless you have back-up generators).  So stock up on essentials or get ready for a few painful climbs and descents as you have to take the stairs every time you want supplies.

What about your mobile?

If there’s no power, then your phone’s battery is going to die on you eventually. Invest in one of those pocket charger packs and maybe a plug-in adapter for the car, so you can nip down to the garage, start up and charge up.

What’s in your freezer?

Get the eskies out and pack them with as much as you can from your freezer as soon as the power dies.  The tighter you pack the longer they’ll stay frozen.  Plan for Armageddon and you’ll survive a few days, for sure.

Get a back-up supply of batteries

Double-A, triple-A and every other size you might need for radios, flashlights and camping lanterns (did we mention buying camping lanterns?).  Get a few candles in too.

Buy a battery-powered radio

The ABC provides an amazing local radio lifeline that works when all other forms of communication are knocked out. But you need a radio that works when the power is out. Get a battery-powered radio and tune in to your local ABC radio station. (See previous paragraph).

Charge up everything

We have so many devices around the home that run off their self-contained rechargeable batteries.  Keep them charged up ready for the moment that there’s no power  available to charge them.

Switch appliances off at the socket during a power outage

When the power comes back on, it may occur in a huge surge and some of your appliances may have their fuses blown.  Switch everything back on one by one when the power comes back on.

Store up water – lots of water.

If your power goes, then the pumps that fill your water tanks in high buildings will too. If it stays off for too long, you could be looking at a lot of trips to the standpipe in the street. Store some, save it but please don’t waste it.

Some residents are being warned not to trust their tap water for drinking as the supply may have been compromised. And keep a couple of buckets handy for flying embers too.

Check on your neighbours

There may be people in your block less well prepared than you – especially older people on higher floors who can’t manage the stairs easily. Knock on the door and make sure they have everything they need and that they can get help if required.

And don’t forget there are a lot of holiday lets at this time of year.  Visitors in your block may have no idea where essential services or the emergency evacuation centre is.

If anyone else has ideas for getting apartment blocks ready for bushfires, please write to mail@flat-chat.com.au and we’ll publish them on Flat Chat website.

[See comments below for more good ideas]

2 Replies to “Unit blocks in bushfires – we are not immune”

  1. Jimmy-T says:

    This is now being discussed in the Flat Chat Forum

  2. FarawayGirl says:

    Hi Jimmy, thanks for the checklist for apartment blocks preparing for a bushfire. Living in a coastal small tourist town we have just come through a couple of crisis weeks. Your list is terrific and I have a couple of things that we found to be very important to add .
    1.At least one but more if available of good strong torches. Keep the batteries charged or have new batteries for them. We found these invaluable as it was pitch black in the middle of the day as the fire got closer.
    2 A small camp stove that uses gas cartridges. We had several days with no power and as there is no natural gas on our coast we are all electric. Luckily we had a coffee plunger tucked away with some ground coffee and each morning we boiled up some water on the gas and filled our thermos so we had coffee and tea all day. ( Thankfully).
    3. Keep your car filled with fuel at all times if possible. We were lucky enough to have filled our tank the day before the warnings went out. People were in a queue for at least 800 metres for petrol or diesel and only one of the three service stations in town has been open in the last two weeks even though tankers have pulled in and filled their tanks. The owners have obviously evacuated from this town .
    4. Lastly, don’t forget to have an emergency food stash that you replace items as soon as you use them as the supermarkets could not get replenished as highways were closed. Luckily we had a good pantry so we did not starve.
    It’s great that you have published this checklist Jimmy. We are going to circulate it to the other owners in our apartment block

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