Fire on farms in Western Australia – Reducing the risks

Page last updated: Wednesday, 1 December 2021 - 11:10am

Farms in the agricultural areas of south-west Western Australia are particularly susceptible to fire in the hot, dry summer months – accidental and intentionally started fires are not uncommon.

The highest priority in fire management is to prevent deaths or injury to people. This page gives some guidelines and links to information about preventing and reducing the likelihood and impacts of fire on farms, and links to agencies advising on personal safety.

Who is this information for?

Any landowner can use the information on this page to help develop a fire management program. The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development recommends that landowners always follow the guidelines and instructions from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES), and from their Local Government.

What could be damaged by fire

  • people (the highest priority for protection)
  • livestock
  • pets and companion animals
  • buildings (houses, sheds)
  • vehicles and farm machinery
  • water supply infrastructure – (poly pipe, water tanks, wind mills, solar panels and wiring)
  • paddock feed and ground cover
  • fences
  • power lines
  • on-farm fuel and chemical storages.

Know when to get out

Leaving early is your safest option in a bushfire emergency. You can plan to be safe and leave early using this DFES guide.

  • Fires can move very fast – up to 72 km/hr (https://www.science.org.au/curious/bushfires) – and you may not have much time between seeing the smoke and the fire blocking your exit.
  • Country roads and even main roads can quickly trap those fleeing the fire.

Maximise your chances of surviving and minimising losses by having a fire emergency plan. Write your plan down and practice the actions with all members of your household. Saving lives is always the highest priority.

Animal welfare for livestock, pets and companion animals should be part of your plan.

Use DFES's Prepare. Act. Survive. booklet to assist you in developing your own plans.

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Identify the fire hazards so that you can do something about them

Hazards are the things that influence the likelihood and impact (risks) of wildfire. Reducing hazards is the most effective way of reducing risks.  Categories and types of hazards are listed below.

Location and geography of the farm

Risks are higher when the farm:

  • is in an area with a history of wildfires
  • experiences hot dry conditions for extended periods
  • experiences strong winds during summer and autumn
  • has sloping and dissected country
  • is distant from firefighting services
  • has poor access to and from the farm, and around the farm.

Sources of fire

  • fuel reduction burns by agencies or other bodies
  • machinery and vehicle use in open areas
  • escaped stubble burns in late summer, and escaped pasture or wood heap burns in autumn.
  • lightning strikes in summer thunderstorms
  • spontaneous combustion of haystacks
  • fallen power lines
  • accidentally or intentionally started illegal fires (arson and cigarette butts).

Sources of fuel for fire

  • trees and other vegetation (plantations, revegetation areas, bush) and understorey
  • the amount and type of dry pastures and crops or stubbles.

Lack of preparedness for wild fires

Being prepared for fires can save a lot of time reacting to a fire, and potentially save lives and property.

Preparation includes:

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How to reduce the hazards

Location and geography of the farm

  • Always have multiple escape routes from the property. If that is not possible, prepare safe areas to shelter in case your escape route is blocked. See the DFES Bushfire overview page for support to produce the survival plan.
  • Know and get involved in your local fire and emergency services (volunteer and career services on the DFES web page).
  • Have easy-to-open gates on all escape routes.

Reducing sources of fire

On the farm

  • Comply with harvest and vehicle movement bans issued by your local government.
  • Have a fire-safe area for operating equipment capable of starting a fire: grinding, welding, petrol or diesel generators, chainsaws.
  • Avoid driving through dry grass or crops wherever possible. Vehicles and motorbikes driving through dry grass or crops: hot exhaust systems, catalytic converters and diesel particulate filters all get very hot and have been known to start fires.
  • Harvesters operate in hot dry conditions, generate a lot of dust and loose plant material, and have very hot engine components. Always have fire extinguishers onboard, and clean out accumulated dust and stubble as often as needed. See the Victorian Country Fire Authority web page for more detail.

Road reserves

  • Maintain wide fuel-free firebreaks inside your boundaries against all public roads. Fires in road reserves may be accidental or deliberate and are a known source of farm fires. Your Local Government Authority (the Council) will have bylaws and notifications about firebreak requirements.

Power lines

Fallen powerlines can start fires. Whether these are your lines or the power authorities, it pays to check the pole condition and report any problems as soon as possible. See the Western Power farming and agriculture industry safety web page

Make the farm fire-safe

  • Maintain fuel-free firebreaks
    • property and paddock boundaries
    • beside laneways, roads and tracks
    • sheds, chemical storage and yards
    • water supply infrastructure – (poly pipe, water tanks, windmills, solar panels and wiring)
    • fuel storage
    • powerlines.
  • Reduce the fuel load in and around sensitive areas
    • houses and gardens
    • sheds and mobile machinery parking pads
    • yards and confinement feeding areas.
  • Have ready-to-go firefighting gear close to where it is needed.
    • vehicle with water tank and firefighting pump and hoses
    • sprinkler systems around the house and high value infrastructure
    • backpack sprayer for small spot fires.

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Be prepared for fire

  • The 2 most important preparations are:
  • Install appropriate apps on your phone/s prior to spring and summer.
  • Register your mobile phone with your local government to receive SMS text message alert service advising residents when harvest and vehicle movement bans are imposed by the Chief Bushfire Control Officer and when the bans are lifted.
  • Have an updated emergency kit where everyone can find it.
  • Have an updated animal welfare plan for livestock, pets and companion animals
  • Get everyone on the property to read through the Fire and Emergency Services Prepare for a bushfire information on the web. There is a lot of very good information from this page.
  • Nominate and manage fire-safe areas on the property for livestock.
    • This should have steel fence posts and steel or concrete strainer assemblies, and ideally a farm dam that can be opened for stock. Reticulated water supplies may not work in a serious fire.
    • Livestock housing (pigs, chickens) should have adequate fuel-free surrounds and independent firefighting equipment (water tanks, diesel water pumps).
    • Never turn animals out onto the road to run free. This is dangerous for road users and you may be legally responsible if they cause an accident.
    • Do not shut animals into a stable or small yard that can be affected by fire.
  • Maintain and test all firefighting equipment before the start of the high-risk season.

Pets are not allowed into public relocation centres so you will need to consider this in your bushfire survival plan. See https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/animalwelfare/bushfire

Contact information

Paul Findlater
+61 (0)8 9956 8535