Grassfires can start and spread quickly, especially on days when the Fire Danger Rating is Severe, Extreme or Code Red. Fire Danger Ratings tell you how dangerous a fire would be if one started. As the ratings increase, so does the risk of uncontrollable fire.
Understanding the Rural Grassfire Risk
Grassfires can start and spread quickly and are extremely dangerous.
Grassfires can travel up to 25 km per hour and pulse even faster over short distances.
Grass is a fine fuel and burns faster than bush or forests.
Grassfires tend to be less intense and produce fewer embers than bushfires, but still generate enormous amounts of radiant heat.
The taller and drier the grass, the more intensely it will burn.
The shorter the grass, the lower the flame height and the easier the fire will be to control.
Short grass (under 10cm) is a much lower risk.
Grassfires can start earlier in the day than bushfires, because grass dries out more quickly when temperatures are high.
Living in a grassland area with dried-out brown or golden-coloured grass that is over 10cm high is a fire risk. There are some exceptions, such as Phalaris grass, which will burn even when green.
Reducing the risk to yourself, your home and your property
Decide what buildings or assets you need to protect from grassfire.
Reduce the height and proximity of grass to these buildings and other assets by:
Spraying and using herbicide
Creating fuel breaks by removing all fuel (vegetation) down to the soil
Narrow fuel breaks (less than three metres wide) are unlikely to stop a fire, however they may slow it down.
By reducing the grass and other fine fuels around your buildings and other assets you can create a defendable space – a space which limits the ability of a moving grassfire to ignite a building through direct flame contact or radiant heat
It’s important that you create and maintain a defendable space around all the assets you want to protect.
It’s too late to begin spraying and slashing as the fire approaches. You must prepare before the fire season.
If you’re a landholder or farmer, you need to include fire preparations in your whole farm plan. See Fire Safety on the Farm.
Machinery can start grassfires
During the Fire Danger Period, if you’re using machinery with an internal combustion or heat engine, such as tractors or slashers, within nine metres of grass, crops, stubble, weeds or other vegetation, it’s important that you ensure the machinery is:
free from any faults and mechanical defects that could start a fire.
fitted with an approved spark arrestor.
carrying a working water fire extinguisher or knapsack of at least nine litres capacity.
In addition to water required under legislation, you should also carry a dry chemical extinguisher that is suitable for normal combustible fires and electrical fires, such as an ABE extinguisher, on machinery.
What should you do if a grassfire starts near you?
Grassfires are very hot and can produce huge amounts of radiant heat that can kill anyone caught out in the open.
The safest place to be during a grassfire is well away from the threat.
Shelter from radiant heat
The best protection from radiant heat is distance.
However, if you need to shelter yourself from radiant heat you can do so by:
Going inside a building that is well prepared and actively defended.
Going inside a private or community fire shelter that meets current regulations.
As a last resort, go to a Neighbourhood Safer Place (Place of Last Resort). If there is no such place, then a ploughed paddock, dam (with water in it), swimming pool or other large water body (NOT a water tank) may offer some protection from radiant heat.
If you encounter smoke or flames from a grassfire while you’re travelling, turn around and drive to safety if you can.
If you’re unable to turn around and drive to safety, a car offers more protection from radiant heat than being caught on foot in the open. If you’re in a car and become caught in a grassfire, don’t get out and run. Visit Staying Safe in the Car for more information.
If you are threatened by a grassfire, cover up all exposed skin with protective clothing.
Protective clothing includes:
Long-sleeved shirt and pants made from a natural fibre such as cotton or wool.
Sturdy boots and woollen socks.
Tough leather gloves.
A wide-brimmed hat.
A face mask or towel to cover your mouth and nose.
Eye protection such as smoke goggles.
Shield yourself from radiant heat behind a solid structure such as a building.