Fire safety while travelling

By: Anita Pavey, Photography by: Anita Pavey

New technology can help you plan your travel in high fire risk areas.

Fire safety while travelling
Fire fuelled by spinifex is one of the risks of travelling off the beaten track

We live in a rural area of the Adelaide Hills surrounded by dry paddocks, so the risk of fire danger is never far from our minds.

Several times a week, the Melbourne to Perth diesel freight train can be heard nearby; the large capacity diesel engines thundering along, screeching as it navigates the turns in the track. There has been recent talk about seeking to ban freight trains on days of total fire bans to avoid the risk of sparks igniting the trackside scrub.


One way to reduce the risk of wildfire is through controlled burns, which are normally undertaken during the cooler months of the year. These burns reduce the build-up of flammable material, often referred to as fuel, and aim to reduce the likelihood of more serious fires. Burns have been traditionally used by indigenous cultures and land management authorities to regenerate the area. How many times have you passed through farming districts to see a patchwork of charcoal paddocks?

In our travels, we have come across such burns travelling north of Alice Springs and in the Kimberley. It can be quite confronting travelling towards a fire, with the large plumes of smoke readily seen in the distance.


Fire fuelled by spinifex is one of the risks of travelling off the beaten track. Spinifex often grows in between the wheel tracks in remote areas and along the verge and can pose a fire risk from hot exhausts.

Spinifex can catch on the underside of a vehicle and its resin-rich needles burn quickly. More than a few vehicles have burnt to the ground in the middle of nowhere from parking among spinifex while admiring a point of interest. Many people carry a wire hook of sorts, or a similar tool, for clearing spinifex from under a vehicle on a regular basis. Always look for a clearing before pulling off the track, rather than parking on a patch of spinifex.

If you’re planning to travel through areas of recent fire activity, check with the local road authorities to confirm your planned route is unaffected. This is particularly important if you are travelling in the outback, as closed roads can create significant back tracking, which can affect your reserves of fuel and food.


Total fire ban days prohibit the lighting of a campfire, gas stove or barbecue, or carrying out any activity in the open that might cause a fire. This includes using a chainsaw. If in doubt, contact the local fire authority in your region. The fines and prison terms are significant, particularly if it causes damage to the environment, people and property.

You might also be liable for civil action if your negligence causes losses to other parties, so think twice before you strike that match or fire up the chainsaw or other motorised tool.

Many national parks close on days of total fire ban in order to minimise risk to park users. Keep yourself updated as you travel. Check into national park offices and visitor information centres, tune in to ABC radio for updates and install fire notification applications on your mobile phone. In South Australia, the Country Fire Service has a phone app called CFS Fireapp; in Victoria it’s Fireready, and New South Wales uses the Near Me app, which sends fire alert warnings and updates. There are also Facebook, Twitter and emails you can subscribe to.

If you prefer the traditional methods, you can contact the bushfire information hotline in your state.

Quick tips to stay safe

  • Monitor under your vehicle for spinifex when travelling off the beaten track.
  • Install fire warning mobile applications for each state, for areas within the mobile network.
  • Don’t risk driving on closed roads after fires – these are reserved for emergency vehicles.
  • Don’t take any unnecessary risks – a change in wind direction can happen at any time.

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The full feature appeared in Caravan World #536 April 2015. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!