6th November, 2023

How to protect your property from El Niño bushfires


  • In October 2023 the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) announced that Australia is officially in an El Niño climate pattern
  • El Niño is characterised by reduced rainfall, warmer temperatures and an increased risk of fire danger, predominantly in southeast Australia
  • As a result, Australian homes are exposed to a greater risk of bushfire this summer
  • Here’s more on how El Niño impacts people in Australia and how to get your home bushfire ready

What is El Niño?

According to the BoM, El Niño and La Niña are perhaps the biggest influencers on climate variability throughout the year in Australia. El Niño is a sustained period of warming, while La Niña is characterised by a sustained period of cooling. Right now, the BoM has declared that Australia is experiencing an El Niño weather pattern. This typically means:

  • Lower rainfall
  • Hotter temperatures
  • A shift in temperature extremes
  • An increased risk of frost
  • Fewer tropical cyclones
  • Later onset of monsoons
  • Greater fire danger in southeast Australia
  • Lower alpine snow depths

Unfortunately, lower rainfall and higher maximum temperatures mean higher fire danger ratings, particularly in southeast Australia. In the past, Ash Wednesday and the severe bushfires of 2002-03 and 2006-07 all followed El Niño years.

If you’re located in southeast Australia, or in any area of Australia prone to bushfires, now is the time to get prepared. For more detailed information on El Niño and how it impacts Australia, head here.

Tips for getting bushfire-ready

  1. Make an emergency fire plan

Anyone who has been caught in a bushfire will tell you that it moves fast. Having a clear emergency plan will help you take swift action and increase your chances of survival. Fire authorities in most states and territories have emergency fire plan templates on their websites.

There are even apps, such as the My Bushfire Plan App, which will guide you in preparing a fire plan in under 15 minutes. When preparing your plan, remember that leaving as early as possible is the safest choice. Also consider:

  • What is your sign to leave? E.g., discovering there is a fire close by or visible smoke.
  • What will you bring with you?
  • Where will you go?
  • How will you travel there?
  • What route will you take? And what alternative routes are available if your primary route is blocked?
  • What will you do if you are unable to leave?
  1. Prepare your property

Properties that are prepared for bushfire season are far more likely to survive. Reducing the fire load on your property should be your ultimate goal. ‘Fire load’ measures the amount of combustible material in a building or space, which can impact the spread and intensity of a fire.

This measurement helps firefighters and safety professionals determine the potential fire risk of an area. The term takes into account materials and items within a building that can fuel a fire, including textiles, furniture, plastics, and other flammables.  Of course, preparing the exterior of a property is also critically important when getting ready for bushfire season.


  • Clearing gutters
  • Ensuring lawns are 10cm in height or less
  • Trimming branches or shrubs
  • Remove flammable materials from around the property, including wood, dry grass, bark, leaves, or furniture
  • Making sure there are hoses that reach all around the property

A lower fire load means lower insurance costs

The fire load of a property is a factor used by insurance companies to calculate fire insurance premiums. If a property has a high fire load, it may be subject to higher insurance premiums. Properties with a lower fire load tend to qualify for lower premiums. As we said earlier, ‘fire load’ only refers to items or materials that increase the risk of fire within a structure. However, insurance companies will also separately assess external factors that make a property more susceptible to fire, for example, where the building is located in proximity to bushland.

Doing everything you can to lower the risk of fire inside and outside your property will help lower the cost of your fire insurance cover. It’s also worth asking your insurer if they offer discounts for any particular fire mitigation efforts.

You may also want to consider:

  • Ensuring the building uses fire-resistant materials wherever possible
  • Creating firebreaks and clearing vegetation close to the property
  • Using fire-resistant plants and ensuring grassy areas are maintained
  • Regularly maintaining the property by clearing debris, gutters and other flammables
  • Installing fire extinguishers, alarms and fire sprinkler systems
  1. Monitor the level of fire danger

The Australian Fire Danger Rating System (AFDRS) indicates how dangerous a fire could be to lives and property on any given day. AFDRS provide the public with information that enables them to act and protect themselves. They are also used by emergency services to support decision-making.

The AFDRS levels are:

  • Moderate (green) – Plan and prepare
  • High (yellow) – Be ready to act
  • Extreme (orange) – Take action now to protect life and property
  • Catastrophic (red) – For your survival, leave bushfire risk areas

Need fire protection insurance?

We provide fire protection insurance for homes and businesses across Australia, who require comprehensive cover and genuine support, when you need it most. We take the time to tailor policy solutions that match your circumstances so you have peace of mind and the right level of cover.

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Author: Bruce Insurance