The lessons for us all from Perth’s recent bushfires
February’s bushfires savaged Perth’s north-east with 86 properties destroyed over several days as it burnt through more than 11,000 hectares.
By late February, more than 730 insurance claims were lodged totalling more than $60 million, according to the Insurance Council of Australia. It says the 2019-20 bushfire season led to 38,600-plus claims and losses totalling almost $2.34 billion across Australia.
It’s timely, too, that the WA government recently opened a $33 million Bushfire Centre of Excellence as a research and training facility that also embraces Indigenous fire-management approaches.
But there’s much you can do to be prepared for fires.
Being in the know
The smell of smoke is a good indication there’s a bushfire nearby. You might have up to 30 minutes from when you first notice embers, thick smoke, unusual noise and increased darkness.
It’s important to keep up to date on the fire’s progress. Good sources of information are the ABC Emergency website, the Fires Near Me app if you’re in NSW, or the Vic Emergency site (for not only fires). For an overview, the national My FireWatch website during the bushfire season has detailed information. These advisory services will guide you about how to prepare for an impending crisis.
The Country Fire Authority of South Australia also has good survival tips for when a fire has started:
- Find a safer place well away from the fire front
- If you can’t and are in a vehicle in the middle of a fire, park in a clear area ideally next to a solid structure to protect you against the heat. With your car faced towards the fire, switch off the ignition and aircon, close windows, doors and vents, and wear your P2 mask while lying on the floor under woollen blankets, ensuring you stay hydrated by drinking water
- When all else has failed, find a Bushfire Last Resort Refuge.
What do I do when the fire’s passed?
You’ll still need to be vigilant immediately after a fire has passed:
- Check your health and wellbeing
- Monitor your livestock, animals and pets, and give treatment where necessary
- When safe, take stock of any damage and watch for hazards such as coals and embers
- Assess your options for disposing of carcasses, if you’re on the land
- For farmers, understand the pasture recovery process
- Consider agisting your livestock elsewhere if they can’t be secured on your property
- The site may be contaminated so care needs to be taken and rely upon the advice of experts and authorities
- Keep tabs on your finance and insurance – talk to us as your broker/adviser and seek free financial counselling from Moneysmart.gov.au, if needed.
Good to know
You may assume your household insurance policy will cover you for bushfire damage, but coverage, exclusions and limits can vary. Your vehicle won’t be covered under this – nor will compulsory third-party insurance offer you protection. Here are other exclusions to keep in mind:
- You may need to wait a period (usually 72 hours) after taking out cover before it applies
- Loss or damage from scorching, melting, heat and smoke aren’t covered (i.e. there’s no flame damage). It’s important to note some policies may apply a distance limit (this means it covers loss or damage from heat, ash, soot and smote that is the direct result of a fire within the specified distance of the insured address)
- A burning building that’s a specific distance from your home might not be covered (as explained above)
And, if you haven’t got a current inventory of all of your contents – room by room, shed by shed – now’s the time to update it. Photograph them, too, and upload the images to the cloud.
Once the Insurance Council of Australia declares a bushfire area a catastrophe, insurers who subscribe to the General Insurance Code of Practice must prioritise related claims. That’s even if you can’t find your paperwork. A fast-tracked claim might give you an advanced payment within five business days, if your claim is deemed valid.
As your broker/adviser, we’ll have the details and electronic records as a backup. Make sure you check with us before you begin or authorise building work, including emergency repairs. The majority of insurers provide ‘make safe’ repairs. That way, you’ll still have policy coverage. Talk to us as well if you’re unsure what to do about items that could be repaired.
And, if you run a small business, it can be tricky to find the best-fit insurance at an affordable price. That’s due to rising risks and premiums as the number and severity of bushfire catastrophes increase. As your broker/adviser, we can save you time in finding a policy to suit, and you may be able to access discounts by packaging different policies for your cover.