Should I stay, or should I go?

‘Get out and get out early’

During the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, most people died where they thought they would be safest.


Cars and people lined up during a bushfire south of Bundaberg in southern Queensland.(ABC News: Sarah Jane Bell)

Of the 173 people killed, two-thirds died in their own homes. Of those, a quarter died sheltering in the bath.

The subsequent royal commission into the Black Saturday fires applied much critical scrutiny to the ‘prepare, stay and defend or leave early’ policy, otherwise known as ‘stay or go’.

“The 2009 Black Saturday fires were a game changer,” said Dr Jim McLennan.

“Up to then the general idea was, if you couldn’t leave well ahead of the fire, the safest thing was to stay and defend the house.”

He said the messaging has now changed.

“The emphasis is now on leave early.”

But Dr McLennan said while more people seemed to be hearing that message and deciding to leave early, they were failing to flesh out a detailed and safe escape plan.

“It’s one thing to decide we’re not going to stay, it’s quite another to say, ‘we’re going to go to x, and we will use either road z or road y, and our trigger to leave will be when we hear the fire is at a particular place’.”


Task: Triggers

Write down

  • 3 things that would make you want to leave your home, and
  • 3 things that would make you feel safe to stay. 

We’d like you to stick this on your fridge and return to it as you learn more about fire and emergency preparedness. We will ask you how your notes changed after the Six Week Challenge concludes.


Some things to think about

If you plan to evacuate – make sure you go early and choose a place out of the risk area. Places you could go might be a friend or relative’s house, or a shopping centre away from bushland – which isn’t going to be affected by a fire.  Don’t forget to pack your spare undies and toothbrush! (More about undies in the Emergency Kit topic released in the next few weeks of this program).

If you are under immediate threat from the fire front – it is too late to evacuate. It is not safe to leave without assistance from emergency services. You will most likely hear statements like “It’s too late to leave” or “Shelter in place”. These indicate that the fire front is fast moving and intense and may impact on your escape routes or property very soon. In these instances you will need to find defendable, solid shelter. Something you might have seen while you were out looking around your path in the Rediscover your area Activity.

If you decide to stay and defend – you will need to be ready for anything, make sure that you have tools, protective clothing and water to sustain you and that your place is very well prepared.

What ever decision you take, check in with your friends and family so they know if you are safe.

How do I know when I need to go? 

Look for updates and warnings: Warnings may be broadcast on TV and Radio, posted on social media or through mobile phone networks. Please take heed of advice to prepare to evacuate. Always monitor the conditions around you by taking a look outside and compare it to what you are hearing or reading from agencies like the RFS, SES, Media outlets and Social Media sources. Be calm and objective, always confirm information by checking more than one source.

Social media can become saturated with comments and images that may not represent the whole picture. It’s vital to compare what you can see, hear and smell with official information sources before jumping in on the discussion.

Make use of the Fires Near Me watch zones feature that you can set up in the free FiresNearMeNSW app. This will make it easier to know when there are new incidents that may impact you and your plan.

I want to leave early. But how early is that?   

Good question! That will depend on your location and situation. Aim to avoid meeting danger on the roads such as traffic accidents or fast moving fire fronts. Give yourself extra time when planning to leave. The map you used for the Where will you go if you need to evacuate and the Location, location, location topics will help here too. Take in to account how long it will take to grab your box of keepsakes, spare clothes and wrangle the small kids and pets as well. Stay tuned, this series will help you pack and prepare.

Generally speaking early in the day gives you the most options, as the day heats up so does the fire activity. Understanding the forecast conditions may be part of you trigger to pack and go before there is a threat.

Leaving early is always the safest option 

What will it be like if I decide to stay and defend? Check out our article “What does a bush fire sound like?


Making a plan for your situation

The RFS Bush Fire Survival Plan is the best resource to help you work through this topic.

Download a PDF of the Fire Plan Package to your computer.

If you’d like a paper version, get your own snazzy looking FREE copy of the Bush Fire Survival Plan from your local brigade or the Katoomba Fire Control Centre (Corner of Bathurst Rd and Narrow Neck Rd).

In the paper version flip to section headed “My Leave Early Plan” and “My Stay and Defend Plan” and start penciling in what you think you should do. Pencil is best because you may learn a few things in this series that might change your mind. Oh, and don’t forget to think about plan B!