by Scott Sawyer
ONE of the challenges facing average punters in times of bushfire is understanding terms thrown at them by emergency services.
With a wall of flames bearing down on your property, the last thing you need to be doing is trying to decipher what 'watch and act' actually means, or the difference between emergency warnings and bushfire advice.
So we've broken down what the three types of bushfire alerts are and what they mean.
This is usually the first warning you will see come out, usually plastered over television screens, on radio broadcasts and all over news websites.
It's a general warning a bushfire has started, but there's not any immediate threat.
It's an early heads-up to start monitoring conditions, bring cars undercover, bring your animals inside and start securing loose items.
This is the time to review your bushfire action plan, clear gutters and get your contingencies in place if you haven't already. Preparation is key and you should have a clear understanding of whether you will evacuate or stay and defend your home.
It's now you should be putting on protective equipment, filling water containers and making sure your generator is ready if you intend on staying.
Monitor emergency alerts via radio and news sites.
Watch and act:
The threat is starting to ramp up, meaning conditions are changing and the bushfire is approaching.
There will be more specific information provided in these to those at-risk.
Watch and acts can be released anywhere from 24 hours to two hours prior to when a fire is expected to impact an area.
It's now that you need to take action and be prepared to protect yourself, your family and your neighbours.
If you're leaving, you should leave now.
Your bushfire plan should be enacted now, but know that well-prepared homes can be defended.
If your home isn't well-prepared it's too late to try and prepare it, you need to prepare to evacuate.
There are various levels of watch and act, depending on conditions, the behaviour of the fire and the area to be affected, so be aware that watch and act directions aren't all the same.
This is very specific information, broken down usually into streets, to indicate which properties are expected to be impacted by fire.
Time of impact is less than two hours. This is the critical stage.
Emergency warnings are issued if there is a risk to lives and properties.
This means you don't have time now, you must be decisive. Either leave immediately if the path is clear or stay and prepare to defend your home and your life.
Often spot fires will be thrown ahead of the main fire front, so be aware you cannot expect a firefighter at every house.
It's also worth noting some warnings and levels of alert can overlap.
You may be wondering through all of this what a bushfire plan is?
If your home is on a slope, within a few kilometres of bushland or is surrounded by trees and shrubs within 20m of your home you could be at risk of bushfire, so you should have a plan in place.
Things to consider include the fire danger rating in your area, whether you have elderly or immobile family members that may take time to move, how well-prepared and maintained your property is and whether you'll need to travel through bushland if you need to evacuate.
Your two options are to leave early or stay and defend your property (forced evacuations can occur later but if your plan is effective you shouldn't be in that position).
If leaving early it's ideal to have a property well-prepared for a bushfire with cleared land or fire breaks in place.
You should also have a back-up plan in case things change and your exit route is blocked.
If staying and defending your home you need to make sure you have sufficient shelter for your family, have a back-up plan with a safe evacuation route and safe place to flee to, you are physically and mentally ready for the battle and you have enough supplies.
Your bushfire survival kit should include the following: protective clothes, torch, gloves, mops and buckets, hoses, shovel, towels, safety goggles, ladder, medications, bottled water, fire extinguishers, battery-operated radio, spare batteries for torch and radio, smoke mask, mobile phone charger, woollen blankets, first-aid kit and backpack sprayer.
If leaving your home, your relocation kit should have: protective clothes for whole family, battery-operated radio and spare batteries, safety goggles, medications, purse, wallet or cash, spare clothes for family, ID (driver's licence, passport, birth certificate etc), bottled water, food, woollen blankets, list of contact numbers (for family, doctors, vets, friends, local hospitals, council, utility providers), first-aid kit, pet food, bedding and water.