Be Prepared Before Disaster Strikes
“It’s one thing to live in a Bushfire Risk Area – and it’s quite another to have one rip through your town.”
This is what our lovely Jess, who works in marketing for us here at head2toe First Aid, found out on December 20, 2019. She lived through the scary reality of the Cudlee Creek bushfire, when she had to put her Bushfire Action Plan into place and quickly evacuate her Adelaide Hills home in Lobethal with her 2 precious young girls and dog. The fire burnt to a street away and 300m from her back fence – but, she counts herself lucky that unlike other homes close by, her house wasn’t damaged.
Jess wanted to share her story here, in the hope that it motivates more people just like you to make sure you’ve got a Plan in place – in case you have to get out quick.
Whether you’re in a Bushfire Risk Area, live close to a Bushland Area, or are in Suburbia.
Because I don’t know about you, but in our household, the heartbreaking fact that we had multiple fires burning across our beautiful state and country caused plenty of upset and worry. My daughter was most concerned, asking a lot of questions about whether our house could come under threat.
We discussed the fact that while a bushfire was extremely unlikely for us – Yes, we still need an Emergency Action Plan.
Easily Create your 5 Minute Bushfire Plan
Jess had only moved to Lobethal months earlier, and having previously lived in the Barossa and suburbia, she had taken the bushfire threat seriously from the get go.
She’d gone onto the CFS Website and found they had fabulous resources for creating a 5 Minute Bushfire Plan. Of course, you can also attend more detailed workshops and courses.
For Jess, her plan wasn’t anything fancy, or longwinded.
If there was threat of a fire – they wouldn’t stay and defend, they were out. She had packed a little ‘Fire Box’, and had a handwritten list of what else to take with them. The previous Catastrophic Day, she’d packed up her car just in case, but on December 20, it became real. (And yes, since this has happened, her updated plan is that on Catastrophic Days, they won’t be at home).
As Jess recounts, “The water bomber flew directly over our house just minutes after the fire started and I jumped straight on the CFS website. Initially I thought it could just be a small grass fire & they want to jump on it, because of the Catastrophic conditions. But I kept checking & seeing it was only kilometres away with only really trees and paddocks between it and our house – I said to my 3 and 7 year old, I think we might be leaving this morning.
Then, the moment I saw that Lobethal was under threat, I was so grateful that I’d created my little Bushfire Action Plan, because I went into practical mode and simply got us out.”
Be Prepared vs Panicked
“When I’d decided to leave, my head was really clear – I wasn’t scared or panicked.
I just went through the motions and ticked off my scribbled list. (Later on the adrenaline wore off and my emotions poured out!)
Later, it made me think about what Karyn says so often about First Aid – if you have a plan and practice enough, you can calmly and confidently respond.
I’d already had a ‘Fire Box’ which needed the last few things put back in it. This had our birth certificates, passports, a few of my baby clothes & the girls’, a few special teddies, books (in case we lost everything, I thought it gives the girls something to do!), chargers, torch, and a few other irreplaceable things. All of my insurance documents were online, so I didn’t need them.
I got my 2 young girls to watch cartoons on my mobile phone, so they were in one spot on the couch. But I stressed that the moment mum says we’re going, there’s no mucking around. They got it and did exactly that. My dog followed me around, knowing something was happening!
I quickly packed toiletries and enough clothes for a week – but still thought we’d be back the next day.
It was an odd feeling doing the final scan of your house and realising you can only take so much. And that there’s a chance we may not have a house to come back to.
As we left our house and drove out of town with smoke billowing over, I still thought that being a newcomer to the Hills, I could be overreacting. But I was also happy if that was the case!
As it turns out though, I wasn’t.
Within hours of us leaving, our little town was encircled by flames and the sky glowed red.”
When Jess got the chance to return a few days later, she couldn’t fathom how they stopped the fire where they did. The firefighters and those who stayed to defend are amazing humans and she feels incredibly grateful for them all.
Live in Suburbia? Have an Emergency Action Plan
As I mentioned, we’ve had quite a lot of discussion in our house about whether we could be affected.
The likelihood of a bushfire is severely low in our beachside suburb, but it’s not to say we couldn’t have a fire, flood or other emergency and need to get out.
So, I think that no matter where you live, having an Emergency Action Plan is an essential.
- What if your kitchen or your neighbour’s kitchen caught on fire?
- Or, a BBQ was too close to the house and went up in flames?
- Or, there was an electrical fault that caused a fire?
- What if there was flash flooding caused by a torrential downpour, a burst water main, or interior renovations went wrong?
Or, as residents in the Northern Suburbs found out the same day as the Cudlee Creek fire – when the Northern Expressway was alight, suddenly built-up areas were under serious threat.
And there was widespread panic!
Fair enough too, because for most people, they’d never think about the ‘what ifs’ when they’re not living somewhere like the Adelaide Hills.
So what can you do?
Make a plan. Ask yourself, if you suddenly needed to evacuate your house, what would you need to take out with you?
- Have a small box with your birth certificates, passports & other important documents that aren’t easily obtained. And, have that somewhere that’s easy to grab.
- Also, pop in your most treasured or irreplaceable items.
- Create a quick checklist of items to grab if you had 5-30 minutes to leave – this could include your essential medications, hard drives, laptops, pet items, clothes, water bottles, snacks, etc.
Once you have your plan, talk it over with your kids and family, so you know that if you had to get out quick, you all know what to do.
Be Kind to Yourself in the Aftermath
I think the entire of Australia felt so emotional and affected by the widespread devastation caused by the bushfires in multiple states. Not to mention that sense of helplessness. At the same time, hasn’t it been so heartwarming to see our community and country band together and help in any way they can.
For those directly affected, it is particularly important to take care of yourself.
As Jess describes, “I’ve had plenty of experience with mental health across my life, but living through a bushfire was entirely new to me. At the same time, I figured that it was like a grieving process, and to let myself feel whatever came up.
Having said that – part of me kept thinking ‘What am I upset/worried/sad/anxious about? My house is still standing! I haven’t lost everything!’
But at the same time, driving back home for the first time, my mouth was gaping and I had tears pouring down my face as I drove through the blackened townships. It was just awful being confronted by the charred landscapes, and seeing how many people had lost everything.
A few days after, I read a great post from a counsellor on Facebook about experiencing a traumatic event & realised that yes, it was traumatic. Even though my house was standing and my children were safe, this was a big thing.
This was further cemented when I went into the local SA Recovery Centre and was given a wonderful pack of information. There were great brochures provided that explained about how to look after yourself after a bushfire, and the common responses to a Traumatic Event. And yes, I ticked all the boxes!
It detailed the mixed feelings you can feel, the uncertainty and worry if it will happen again, the relief and despair, the overwhelm, replaying the frightening moments and running through the what ifs. As well as how to move beyond in the recovery period.”
So, what Jess and our entire head2toe First Aid team want to impress upon you is – if you live through any kind of traumatic event, be kind to yourself. Don’t squash it down or belittle how you feel, and don’t underestimate the impact it will have on you in the days, weeks and months after.
Even moreso, don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek help. There are so many fabulous resources available and it’s so important to make use of them.
A final note – we hope this helps…
From this article, we hope that it gets you thinking about how you can create a simple Evacuation Plan. Whether you live in a bushfire risk area and need a Bushfire Action Plan, or whether you’re situated in a town or suburb and can have an Emergency Action Plan.
As Jess mentioned earlier, it really can be likened to learning First Aid. The more prepared you are, the more confident, calm and practical you can be in the face of the unexpected or an emergency event.