Bushfire Prevention with OPE

Bushfire Prevention – Dealers alert your customers to the simple tasks that can render their properties safer Outdoor Power Equipment has a critical role to play in both fighting and, preferably, preventing the out-break of bushfires. While some parts of Australia have had excellent winter and spring rain, Victoria and South Australia have not. Both situations can produce dangerous conditions later in the summer. The strong growth can dry out quickly leaving plenty of potential fuel. Dealers in rural, semi-rural and other bushfire-prone environments should be alerting vulnerable householders of the simple tasks necessary to protect their properties from the risk of serious bushfire losses this summer.

A number of precautions can be taken which can result in the prevention of disastrous property damage and human suffering. The following four factors have been isolated as contributing to housing losses during bushfires:

  • Natural bush growing within 15m of the house
  • Open eaves
  • Pitched roofs
  • Woodpiles within 15m of the house.

Flying sparks generally enter through openings in the roof, walls, under floors or decking and ignite the house and contents already pre-heated by radiation and hot winds.

The following items of Outdoor Power Equipment can serve to help conduct preventative maintenance;

Slashers

Removing sources of ground fuel like grasses and scrub from around a property boundary or within 15m (or preferably more) of a homestead is very important. A conventional domestic mower is unlikely to be able to perform this critical task satisfactorily. Industrial/Commercial mowers can be rotary, flail or sickle bar depending on the requirements of the owner.

Aware of the potential consequences of property owners failing to do this, many rural shires now serve warnings to property owners if it is considered that their land requires firebreaks. If the owners fail to comply the shire will now perform the job summarily before sending the owners a bill for the work done. The rationale is that recalcitrants are putting at the entire community at risk.

It is critical to remove grass & scrub from around a property.

It is critical to remove grass & scrub from around a property.

Brushcutters

These will permit the removal of fuel like grass, weeds or scrub from right up against the side of established trees, buildings and fences. Small saplings can also be eliminated. A line feed head is desirable. Fuel in close proximity to any buildings is extremely dangerous. Attention should be given to sheds and other structures away from the house itself.

Chainsaws

Property owners should take the opportunity to remove high fire risk species (eg eucalypts) from the area immediately around a homestead. It is especially important to attend to trees lying in the direction of prevailing dry, off-desert winds (eg NSW & Qld: Westerlies; Vic & SA: Northerlies; WA & SA: Easterlies). Trees in these areas should be replaced with deciduous varieties that give summer shade while reducing the fire risk. Even these should not be too close to the house.

Electricity lines should be carefully monitored. Many bushfires begin by tree limbs coming into contact with electricity supply lines in high winds. Tree limbs that may be able to be blown against power lines (or that may have the poiwer lines blown into contact with them) by strong winds should be pruned. Sometimes a whole tree may need removing.

Doing this work in later Spring or Summer has a second benefit. This is the best time to cut the following winter’s firewood because it permits sufficient time for the timber to dry before it is used as fuel. The amount of heat produced by similar quantities of timber when burned after drying and if freshly cut can be dramatically different. It is critical that he wood store (preferably covered though permitting air circulation) is more than 15m from the homestead.

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Remove high fire-risk species immediately around a homestead.

Firefighting Pumps

Almost every home and farm which is dependent on rainwater should already have a minimum water supply of 4500L (1000 gal) available to combating fires. However, having water available is not sufficient. Most homes that are not connected to the water mains have electrically powered water systems. These are fine in normal circumstances. However, in the event of a bushfire generally one of the first service to be rendered inoperative is the electricity supply. This makes an engine-powered pump essential to deliver the water to the fire, or for general spray purposes around the house.

For existing rainwater tanks, the suction hose from the firefighting pump will need to enter the tank at the inspection port at the top, adjacent to the down pipes from the roof guttering. Users will need to ensure there is sufficient hose length to reach to the bottom of the tank. There is no point having water that you cannot access. The self-priming ability of many pumps should automatically draw the water from the tank. However, for immediate action (or for non-priming models) the pump should be primed and be “at the ready” as soon as a bushfire danger becomes imminent.

For new rainwater tank installations, a special connection at the outlet should be provided to enable the 38mm (1-1/2″) pump suction hose to be easily attached. This method is far preferable to the “hose over the top”, as pump-priming time will be minimised.

Homes with swimming pools also have a ready reserve of water for use in an emergency. If considering installing a swimming pool, it may be advisable to place it on the “windward” side of the house (see: Chainsaws, above).

For firefighting some modern pumps can give more pressure than would be achieved with a traditional 60m (200ft) high tank stand!

It is strongly recommended that portable firefighting pumps should be thoroughly maintained before and throughout the firefighting season. Owners should carry out the following routing checks:

  • Run the pump at least once a week
  • Keep the petrol tank topped up and fire hoses ready
  • Ensure fire hoses, shut of nozzles and jets are in good order and that all hose connections are tight with washers in good condition
  • On days of fire danger the pump should be primed ready for action with all hoses connected to both pump and water source.

Firefighting Pump Quick Check

A few steps to make sure a firefighting pump will be working when needed:

  • If not already changed – change engine oil.’
  • Drain any fuel left in tank and fill with fresh petrol. Loosen the carburetors fuel bowl retaining bolt & allow fresh fuel to flush through. Re-tighten bolt.
  • Remove spark plug and put a couple of squirts or pour a little engine oil in the cylinder. Pull motor over three or four times. Rinse plug in petrol and replace.
  • Fill pump unit with water and start pump in normal fashion. Run engine for 1-2 minutes without connecting to water tank as long as the pump is full of water.

If there are ANY problems starting or running the pump (eg lack of compression/blocked carburettor) get it checked by a specialist OPE Dealer IMMEDIATELY!!!!

Ideally a fighfighting pump should be robust and easily transportable with

  • Self priming – save crucial time in an emergency
  • Spark-arresting muffler – prevents spot fires
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Engine powered Firefighting pumps draw water from dams or wells even if the electricity supply has been interrupted

Blower/Vac

A blower is the ideal way to remove debris from gutters and under the eaves of a building. This is one of the most common ways in which a fire enters a building. A blower-vac can remove other combustible material from around a homestead including deciduous leaves.

Sprinkler Systems 

Roof gutters and eaves can be inexpensively connected to a sprinkler system. Ideally, the system should have its own, independent reserve water source with a minimum capacity of 22,750L (5,000 gal) and its own independent petrol/diesel power supply (see: firefighting pump)

Ride-ons/Compact Tractors 

A ride-on will remove fuel around a property. Small tractors normally power front-, mid- or rear-mount mower decks, which will be much faster than pedestrian machines. The fastest mowers of all are the new generation of ZTR units (especially in areas with many trees or other obstacles). This is the only effective way to mow larges areas and therefore remove great quantities of grass fuel. Dealers should alert customers to the advantages of the new generation of ride-on mulching decks. These will both remove a source of fuel from around a property while improving its appearance and conserving water. As stated above: Removing sources of ground fuel like grasses and scrub from within 15m of a property boundary or homestead is the minimum. A suitable ride-on will allow this dangerous source of fuel to be removed from all over a property, significantly reducing the risk (especially with grassfires).

Lessons

The awful lessons of bushfires are that most homes (and their inhabitants) can be save in a bushfire if the right precautions are taken.

Some insurance companies have indicated that they regard policies as null–and-void unless an auxiliary, independently powered, fire-fighting pump is on a premises. Property owners should be encouraged to check their policies.

Accidental Fires from Machinery

Sometimes fires are caused by the normal hazards of daily living with machinery, a leaking fuel line on a hot exhaust system, or long dry grass too close to a hot engine component.

Many part-time farmers are shocked to see a grass fire starting from a wire entangled in a rotary slasher, or the simple action of a blade striking a rock. Sometimes it is carelessness, but often it is “accidental” in the true sense of the word. “Accidental” fire causes are numerous: failed bearings overheating are a common for example.

The intention of burning-off operations is to cause a controlled fire to remove fuel. However this control can be hampered by a water pump that fails to start at a critical moment.

How can a lot of these accidental fires be prevented?

Maintenance of equipment is naturally of major importance.

  • The exhaust system on any pump, tractor, ride-on, slasher or harvester must be checked to see that there are no oil leaks on piping, dry grass around manifolds or any leaking fuel lines near critical areas. A leakage of hot exhaust gasses near heavy fuel on critical fire danger days has often caused major bushfires. Spark arrestors may be fitted.
  • Equipment working under heavy loads in dry, dusty conditions during harvesting or logging, may often have bearings that overheat.

The danger is especially high during, or following, a drought where genuine (or perceived) cash shortages may have acted as a disincentive for normal maintenance.

Electric motors near sawdust or in a confined area near another fuel are another common problem.

Fire danger and the time of day, have some relevance. Late in the afternoon actual ignition may not be so likely to cause fires. Very dry fuel and ignition is often assisted by high winds and, towards dusk, conditions are often more favourable if the heat of the day and the wind speeds reduce. Some moisture on pasture is safer for slashing.

Because the climate we live in is particularly hard on machinery, awareness must be heightened of the need for adequate maintenance. Not only from the viewpoint of fire risk reduction but also because it increases the equipment’s useful life.

What are the likely consequences of fire resulting from accidental causes?

Few people, mainly newcomers to country areas, take a little time to understand the vulnerability of neighbouring grazing or agricultural land, to fire. In many cases householders who move to a rural, or semi-rural area (as has become increasingly common) to maintain a small acreage, only grow to understand that there is a community interest in fire prevention after an incident.

The restrictions might seem irksome, but the consequences of huge financial losses from fire for many people are high. Lives, stock, fencing, homes, equipment are all at risk.

Thousands of hectares of grazing land have been burnt out from a single failed wheel bearing. Apart from normal farm machinery and power equipment rural fire authorities have recorded fires through poor car maintenance. A Volkswagen travelling down the Hume Highway had back seat springs that shorted out the battery underneath causing a fire. The owner panicked and ripped the seat from the car onto the roadside causing a large bushfire.

Maintenance, lubrication of moving parts, correct placement of stationary engines in cleared areas, all helps to prevent fires – which is far preferable to fighting them.