Strata buildings and bushfires: how to stay safe

The bushfires across Australia continue to rage and more than 2000 houses have been destroyed. Most strata properties are in urban centres like Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, but we can’t forget about those in more rural areas too. Apartment blocks in regions where bushfires are nearby remain at risk, so it’s important to understand how you can stay as safe as possible in your own home.

Improve indoor air quality

Under the National Construction Code, most apartments are designed to be naturally ventilated, meaning every habitable room has an openable window or vent. With the air quality at historical, worldwide lows right now, it’s advisable to block all outside airflow as reasonably as possible and use air conditioning units (fixed and portable), air purifiers with HEPA filters, dehumidifiers, and fans for indoor temperature control and improved air quality. Closing windows, vents and doors reduces the “air change rate” – the number of times inside air is replaced by outside air.

Remove flammables from open areas

An “ember attack” is a naturally occurring event that can occur during a bushfire. One of these attacks are typified by burning parts of trees such as twigs, leaves and branches being carried long distances by large winds. When many embers are carried away from a bushfire upwind, they can travel several kilometres. You should ensure nothing in your balcony, patio, garden, or terrace could be potentially set alight when gusty strong winds come your way. This means removing rubbish, newspapers and magazines, gas bottles from BBQs, bottles of alcohol, and anything else flammable.

Check your neighbours

Part of community living is looking out for the people you share walls with. If there’s a hazardous situation in your apartment building ­– be it an emergency or just uncomfortable smoky air lingering – check on your neighbours and see how they are doing, and if they need any help. Elderly neighbours who generally keep to themselves might be particularly vulnerable because they’re so quiet, so do pay special attention to them.

Have an exit plan

Many strata buildings have lifts, which should not be used during emergencies. If the power goes out in your building, your lifts won’t function at all. Get to know your stair layout and know where all possible exits from your apartment are.

If you live in an apartment with some extra space, find out how to help provide emergency accommodation to those who are temporarily or permanently displaced by the bushfires.