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How to protect your farm from bushfires


This bushfire season, make sure the property you’ve worked so hard for is adequately protected.

For many Australian farmers, bushfires have hit too close for comfort with the risks worsening over the past couple of years. Even though there have been wet periods, it’s likely the threat will continue through the coming spring, summer and autumn seasons. The recent fires in the Perth Hills remind us of the ongoing threat bushfires pose to our rural communities. I saw this in my early days, when I helped combat fires that broke out around the family commercial orchard in Roleystone in the hills southeast of Perth.

Bushfires can cause uncontrollable damage. The 2019-20 summer bushfires on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island burnt almost half the island, destroying property, agricultural crops and livestock, and leaving farmers with no other choice than to rebuild a lifetime of hard and smart work.

Major fires move at surprisingly fast speeds. What seems to be a distant fire can be upon you within minutes. And spotting ahead of the main firefront can cause the firefront to seemingly jump well ahead of where it is expected to be. Spotting can occur 8 to 10km ahead of the main firefront, and even 30km in extreme cases where the embers come from eucalypt forests.

Bushfires don’t wait for summer to start, or for you to be prepared, so it’s important to get yourself organised and equipped for the unexpected. This checklist will help you make sure you have adequate insurance cover and manage possible fire threats to decrease the risk of damage to your property, assets and livelihood.

Recognise your risk and prepare

It’s important to recognise and acknowledge your property’s fire risk and the assets and stock that will be most vulnerable in the event of a bushfire.

You can take these fire safety and survival steps throughout the year to help reduce the hazards to your property and livelihood:

  • - Prepare firebreaks and maintain green areas if possible around the main buildings.
  • - Fit wire fly screens and shutters to your windows and doors, making sure to fill in any gaps where embers could enter.
  • - Remove debris, dry leaves and other flammable items such as fuel, firewood and machinery from your estate to form a 20-metre circle of safety around your property. Make sure  there are no native gardens backing onto major buildings because even healthy plants will catch fire in extreme fire weather conditions..
  • - Create  a suitable hazard separation zone by storing flammable material in an area surrounded by a firebreak or non-flammable surfaces, such as bare ground or a driveway.
  • - Make sure you have an emergency water supply. It is important to have standalone power for pumps, use metal pipes and metal or concrete tanks for water storage, and  have independently operating roof-top sprinkler systems.
  • - If you have stock try to ensure there are some paddocks with either green grass or little flammable vegetation that you can move them to if there is a bushfire.
  • - Discuss fire prevention and preparedness with your neighbours. In some cases, it might be more affordable to share firefighting equipment such as tanks and sprinkler systems.

Have a bushfire survival plan

Write down exactly what you will do if there is a bushfire in or around your area and record important information you might need, including:

Emergency information: Medicare number, passport number, tax file number, driver license number, vehicle registration, emergency contact numbers, contact details for your local SES and RFS. Ideally routinely store your most important documents in a fireproof safe or cabinet.

Important services information: List the company, account number and contact details of your electricity, gas, water, internet, phone and insurance providers, as well as your local radio emergency frequency channel.

Meeting place: Write down your family’s agreed meeting place and the location and address of where you need to go in case of an evacuation. Also list alternative places to stay like community safe places or the addresses of relatives and friends.

Escape routes: Plan at least two escape routes if your farm has these available. If one escape route is cut off by fire, you’ll have a plan B.

Emergency kit: Prepare an emergency kit packed with all the essential items your family will need and store it in an easily accessible area – ready to grab in case you need to quickly evacuate. The kit should include:

  • - portable radio
  • - torch and batteries
  • - drinking water
  • - first aid kit
  • - knapsack spray
  • - protective clothing
  • - goggles and gloves
  • - extinguishers
  • - ladder, shovel and hoses
  • - towels and woollen blankets (soaked hessian bags are also effective)
  • - safe storage box containing important documents, photos, valuables and medication
  • - reliable means of communication during power failure, such as a non-mains powered telephone and a fully charged mobile phone
  • - keep a mobile phone charger in your main vehicle


Check out the Get Prepared app from our partner the Australian Red Cross, which helps you build an emergency plan.

Check your policy and ensure you’re covered

What hazards are your farm exposed to and does your insurance policy cover those risks? Check your insurance policy to make sure you have the appropriate cover in place for your assets and liabilities (e.g. any machinery, vehicles, boats or caravans). If you are concerned about what is and isn’t covered under an insurance policy, make sure you read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or check in with your insurance broker or insurer.

Calculate rebuilding costs

If you’re worried about the potential total loss of your property, speak to a reputable builder and get a quote for the cost of a complete rebuild. The requirements for house design and construction vary according to your property’s Bushfire Attack Level (BAL), which is a measure of the severity of the potential exposure to ember attack, radiant heat and direct flame contact by a building. Depending on your property’s BAL, the rebuild of your home will need to comply with certain standards and use particular types of materials to increase the property’s bushfire resilience. You can read more about BALs in this WFI Bushfire Awareness Fact Sheet.

Contact your local fire authority for help working out your property’s BAL. The current design of your property might predate current bushfire regulations - this is the case for many buildings in bush-fire prone areas. So it could cost more to rebuild your home under the current standards.

When you know how much it would cost to rebuild your property, speak to your insurer and make sure your sum insured covers this cost. 

Keep in mind that bushfires can damage your house and property, no matter how many precautions you take. That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re adequately covered by your insurance policies and regularly review your cover to make certain you’re not underinsured.

In the event of a bushfire ensure the wellbeing of your family comes first. Stay calm, call 000, comply with emergency services and take the appropriate steps to keep everyone safe.

About Bruce

Bruce is the Principal Research Analyst for Climate at Insurance Australia Group (IAG), Australia’s largest general insurer and operator of some of Australia’s leading insurance brands including WFI and NRMA insurance. With over 40 years’ experience, Bruce provides a wide range of technical advice on all aspects of meteorology and climate change. He is an expert in the field, holding a PHD in Mathematics (Numerical Weather Prediction) from the University of New South Wales. Bruce is passionate about encouraging actions to combat the adverse effects of climate change and remains actively involved in initiatives from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Connect with Bruce on LinkedIn.

About WFI

WFI has been insuring Australians since 1919. It is a leading rural, business and strata insurer with more than 150 local area managers situated across Australia.

For more than 100 years, WFI has been there for its clients, providing support and assistance when they’ve needed it the most.

For more information visit

Rural Bank is a division of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Limited ABN 11 068 049 178 AFSL 237879. Bendigo and Adelaide Bank have a referral relationship with Insurance Australia Limited ABN 11 000 016 722 AFSL 227681 trading as WFI, and if you acquire a product issued by WFI, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank may receive commission payments. In relation to the referral arrangement, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank may receive incentives associated with the volume of total business written and quality of referrals to WFI.

By Bruce Buckley, Principal Climate Research Analyst at WFI.