Grassfires spread rapidly, travelling at speeds of up to 25 km / hr, and quickly threatening lives and properties.
We’re expecting a higher than average risk of grassfires this season, especially in the west of the state. Grassfires can be just as dangerous as bushfires.
If you live on a farm or in a suburban area surrounded by grassland or paddocks, you could be at risk.
Understanding grassfire risk
- Grassfires tend to produce fewer embers than forest fires
- Grassfires can spread quickly and are extremely dangerous
- Grassfires can travel up to 25 km per hour. Fires can pulse even faster over short distances.
- Grass is a fine fuel and burns faster than forests
- Grassfires tend to be less intense than forest fires, 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 forest fires, because grass dries out more quickly than forest 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.
Protecting yourself from grassfires
- Grassfires can start quickly and spread rapidly, catching people off guard
- 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
Shelter yourself from radiant heat 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, swimming pool or other large water body may offer some protection from radiant heat. This does not include a water tank. Dams may not be reliable as their water levels fluctuate and they may be empty in summer.
Cars offer very little protection from radiant heat. A car is unlikely to protect you from the radiant heat of a grassfire. However, it offers more protection than being caught on foot in the open. If you are in a car and become caught in a grassfire, do not get out and run.
If you are threatened by a grassfire, always protect yourself by covering 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.
You need to shield yourself from radiant heat behind a solid structure such as a building.
Protecting your home and 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 (under three metres wide) are ineffective at stopping 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. This limits the ability of a moving grassfire to ignite a building through direct flame contact or radiant heat.
It is important that you create and maintain a defendable space around all the assets you want to protect.
It is too late to begin spraying and slashing as the fire approaches.
You must prepare now.
Farmers need to include fire preparations in their whole farm plan. See fire safety on the farm.
Machinery can start grassfires
During the Fire Danger Period it is important that if using any machinery with an internal combustion or heat engine, such as tractors or slashers, within nine metres of any grass, crops, stubble, weeds or other vegetation, that you ensure the machinery:
- Is free from any faults and mechanical defects that could start a fire
- Is fitted with an approved spark arrestor
- Carries a working water fire extinguisher or knapsack of at least 9 litres capacity
In addition to water required under legislation, you are encouraged to carry a dry chemical extinguisher on machinery that is suitable for normal combustible fires and electrical fires, such as an ABE extinguisher.