A bushfire can be life-threatening if not taken seriously. This page provides practical advice on what to do if you’re overseas and there are bushfires in your area.
Read on to learn about:
- when do bushfires occur
- the key risks of bushfires
- what to do if there are fires in your area
- where to get help
When do bushfires occur
A bushfire, also known as a wildfire, is a generic term that covers forest fires, scrub fires, brushfires and grass fires.
Bushfires are common seasonal events in many destinations. They usually occur in the hotter months.
Be aware of the weather conditions when you’re travelling, particularly if you’re heading into remote areas.
Key risks of bushfires
The fire itself isn’t the only risk from a bushfire. Other potentially life-threatening risks are:
- Radiant heat. Radiant heat can kill. It usually moves before a fire front and can be felt up to 100m away from the fire. It can crack and break windows in buildings and vehicles and burst car tires.
- Smoke and fumes. Smoke and ash from a bushfire can travel many kilometres from the fire. It can impact air quality and make it dangerous if you have breathing difficulties.
- Damage to infrastructure. Bushfires often cause power outages and disruptions to other services such as phone and water/sewerage. These can last several hours to several weeks, depending on the extent of the damage.
What to do if there are fires in your area
- Stay informed
- Decide whether to stay or leave
- Get prepared
- Get to safety
- Prepare to shelter in place
- Contact your loved ones and insurer
- Stay put
- After the fire
1. Stay informed
Find as much information about the situation as you can. Bushfires can impact communications services and internet, so you may not be able to do this later. Stay informed through the emergency services website and social media of the location you’re in. They should provide information on:
- Location and path. Find out if you’re in a location where a fire front may be approaching. Precise paths are hard to predict and bushfires can change path unexpectedly.
- Risk level. Bushfires are often given a risk level according to the potential damage, ability to control and threat to life. The risk level a fire is given will help you plan whether to evacuate or stay where you are.
- Emergency places of shelter. Know where your local shelter is. Have a back-up plan. If you can’t get to where you were planning to shelter, having alternatives ready can keep you calm and safe.
2. Decide whether to stay or leave
In many cases, it’s up to you whether to stay or leave. Your safest option is always to leave early.
In other cases, local authorities will issue an evacuation order. Be prepared for the possibility you’ll have to evacuate. If you’re told to get out, you may have very little time.
- Follow the advice of local authorities at all times. They’re acting in your interests to keep you and others safe.
- Act quickly on evacuation notices. Bushfires can change direction or escalate without warning. If local authorities instruct you to leave the area, do so as soon as possible. Don’t delay.
- Monitor local media for updates. Evacuation orders are often issued on local news and radio. If the place you’re in has a local emergency channel, tune in to that.
- If in doubt, leave. Late evacuation from a bushfire zone can be more dangerous than sheltering in place. It’s better to evacuate and find it wasn’t necessary, than it is to get trapped in a bushfire front.
3. Get prepared
- Pack an emergency bag. Include things like water, first aid, food, torches and batteries.
- Pack your passport and documents, and a list of local emergency numbers.
- Be prepared to protect yourself. Have protective clothing to hand. Keep some small towels or clothes in a bucket of water. If there’s any available, pack a woollen blanket.
- If you need medication for any breathing conditions, have it on hand at all times.
- Charge your devices. If the power is cut off, you won’t be able to charge them. You’ll need them to monitor the path of the fire.
4. Get to safety
- Get out early. It’s extremely dangerous to be caught out in the open or in a vehicle during a bushfire. If local authorities tell you to evacuate, don’t delay. Follow their instructions immediately.
- Know where you’re going. In most cases, the local evacuation centre is the safest place to be. Have your back-up options ready.
- Monitor local media for updates. Stay tuned in to emergency channels and keep up to date on where the bushfire is moving.
- Tell someone where you’re going. Let your family and friends know where you’re heading, and when you get there.
- Never drive towards fire, even if you think it looks safe. If you’re evacuating the area and see fire ahead, take another route or turn back and shelter in place. Respect road and park closures. Don’t take risks that could require a rescue or put your life at risk.
- Shelter in place. If it’s too late to get to somewhere safe, or the place where you are is well designed to withstand fire, shelter in place.
5. Prepare to shelter in place
If it’s too late to leave, you may need to shelter in place. Staying should be a last resort when there is no other option. Plan to leave early to avoid this situation.
If it’s no longer safe to leave the path of the fire:
- Follow instructions. If possible, follow directions from your accommodation manager, tour guide or emergency services. Draw from their experience from past events in the area.
- Move vehicles and furniture away from the building. If you’re in a position to, block downpipes and fill gutters with water.
- Close all the doors and windows and use wet towels to close the gaps. Turn off gas mains and air conditioning units. Fill sinks with water.
- Plan your exit. Know how to get out of the building you’re sheltering in, in the event it catches fire.
- If you have no shelter. If there are no safe buildings to shelter in, your only option may be to seek out a place of last resort such as a beach, dam or river, or an open ploughed field.
Only shelter in a car as a last resort. A car won’t provide shelter from radiant heat, and the car can ignite. Read more about how to protect yourself if you find yourself in a car during a bushfire (Country Fire Association).
6. Contact your loved ones and insurer
- Contact your family and friends. If they've heard about the bushfires through the news, they'll fear for your safety. Tell them where you are, and how you are.
- Contact your travel insurer. Most have 24-hour emergency numbers you can call from overseas. Some have online systems to register in an emergency.
7. Stay put
Once you’ve committed to sheltering in place, stay where you are. Don’t try to leave the area once the fire arrives. You put yourself in greater danger if you do so.
Only leave your place of shelter when local authorities confirm it’s safe to do so.
For more information on what actions you can take if you’re caught in a bushfire and must shelter in place, see the Bushfire information page by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience. This information can be adapted for any location you’re in.
After the fire passes
- If you evacuated, only return when you’re told it’s safe to do so.
- If you sheltered in place, stay alert and watch for spot fires.
- Let your family and friends know you’re ok.
- Continue to monitor local media and follow instructions of local authorities.
Where to get help
If there's a crisis in or near your location, you have help options in your destination and from back home.
In some circumstances, the Australian Government may be able to help. In most cases, you'll need to exhaust all other avenues before seeking emergency consular assistance.
Understand our limits. Read the Consular Services Charter.
Seek help from local authorities first. Emergency services in most destinations have processes in place for severe weather incidents.
See 'local contacts' in the travel advisory for your destination.
Family and friends
Reach out to your family and friends and ask for help. Especially if you need money. Or if you need someone to help coordinate flights out.
Contact your travel insurer. If you can't find their emergency number, look them up on Find an Insurer (Insurance council of Australia).
How the Australian Government can help
The Australian Government may be able to help. However, we're limited how and when we may support Australians overseas.
In many cases, you'll need to exhaust all other support options first.
For emergency consular assistance:
- contact the nearest Australian embassy or consulate
- phone the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) on +61 2 6261 3305
It's important you understand our limits, especially in a crisis. Read the Consular Services Charter.
What we can do
- We can choose to initiate a crisis response when we know Australians are, or could be, affected.
- We can provide emergency consular assistance.
- We can contact your relatives or friends, with your consent.
- We can give you a list of local hospitals with doctors who speak English if you need medical assistance.
- We can help you replace a lost or damaged passport.
- We can help keep you informed about the crisis in your destination, if you subscribed.
What we can't do
- We can't guarantee your safety during a bushfire event.
- We can't shelter travellers in the embassy or consulate. You must find an emergency shelter.
- We can't give you legal or medical advice.
- We can't make decisions for you, or make you leave a country.
- We can't make your travel arrangements, or help you evacuate.