Being ‘fire ready’ this summer means more than having a plan to leave early, writes Barbara Drury.
Summertime is all about chilling out with friends and family, at the beach or by the pool. But under that relaxing vibe Australians are well aware of the danger of the season.
From sunburn to heat stroke, summer in Australia is a time for extra vigilance, with no threat greater than bush fire.
“Research has shown that while most people in bush fire-prone areas have an appreciation for the risk in their general area, many do not think themselves personally at risk,” says NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Paul Best.
Yet bush fires are unpredictable and indiscriminate, and it’s not only people living in rural and regional areas that are affected. Whether you’re at work, traveling or on holiday, a devastating bushfire may only ever be a few flying embers away.
Who could forget the devastating images of the 2013 bush fires in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney where more than 200 homes were lost or the 2009 Black Saturday bush fires that claimed the lives of 173 Victorians and destroyed more than 2000 homes. And warnings for this summer are alarming.
Get yourself ready
To reduce the risk and impact of bushfires in Australia, all states now take a much more active approach to educating communities, from practical bushfire planning workshops to interactive digital tools that can help protect you and your family. For example, the NSW Rural Fire Service website offers a risk assessment by postcode, while the CFA in Victoria now has a Fire Ready app that provides timely and tailored warnings for local communities.
Best says to trim overhanging branches, mow your grass and remove leaves and debris from roof gutters and near your home. And you should have a sturdy hose that reaches all around your home.
While prevention is important, not all homes can be defended from a major fire. That’s where having adequate insurance is crucial.
“The big issue for Australians is underinsurance,” says ANZ senior product manager home insurance Chanura Jayasinghe.
An underinsurance report by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (2005) found that as many as 80 per cent of homeowners are underinsured by 10 per cent or more. That means most people would struggle to rebuild their home if it was destroyed by fire.
Most mortgage lenders insist on building insurance as a mandatory requirement to qualify for a loan. But even if you have building insurance, it’s important to check what it actually covers.
Don’t be left out of pocket
Some home insurance policies cover up to an agreed amount only (and it’s up to you to calculate that amount). But this can leave you substantially out of pocket.
When you buy building insurance, Jayasinghe says it’s important to take into account the full replacement cost. This includes the cost of removing debris, temporary accommodation, architectural services and new building safety codes in bush fire-prone areas.
Jayasinghe recommends choosing a policy that provides full building replacement, regardless of the sum insured.
“Safety requirements in bushfire-prone areas could add more than $100,000 to the cost of rebuilding,” says Jayasinghe. He says this issue was highlighted after the 2013 Blue Mountains fires when two thirds of residents who lost everything were underinsured for rebuilding.
If you want to check whether you are adequately insured the Insurance Council of Australia has a building calculator.
As you chill out this summer, let it be with the peace of mind that comes from knowing your family and your home are prepared.