In 2011, Turia Pitt was caught in a large bushfire that left her with burns on over 65% of her body. After enduring numerous surgeries and almost dying from her injuries, she has now become a spokesperson for burn survivors. In this blog post, we will explore what happened to Turia during the bushfire, how she recovered, and what advice she has for those affected by fires. We will also look at some tips for minimizing your risk of being caught in a bushfire. Thanks for reading!
Turia Pitt’s Story
Turia was working as a mining engineer in Kununurra, Western Australia, during the time of the incident. She was invited to take part in an ultramarathon in the far-flung Kimberley Region in 2011. When Turia and several other runners entered an isolated gorge, they saw smoke and brushfire flames coming right at them, so they decided to abandon the race and look for the nearest shelter. They sought cover in whatever they could find, but Turia was quickly consumed by flames.
After surviving six difficult months of hospital treatment, enduring more than 200 operations, recovering for 2 years, and having seven of her fingers amputated, the burns survivor is still alive to tell her incredible love story. This is despite the fact that she lost all seven of her fingers. Throughout the years since, she has worked and had major surgery to recuperate from the 65 percent burns she sustained.
What affects fire behaviour?
Once a fire is burning, its behaviour depends on three main things: the fuel, the weather, and the terrain.
Bushfires are fueled by vegetation. How fast a fire grows and how hot it becomes depends on the condition, arrangement, amount and type of vegetation or fuels. As a homeowner, you can only control one thing: fuel. By using less fuel and making a place that can have dependable and free space, you can reduce your bushfire risk.
Fine fuels are things like leaves, twigs, and grass that burn quickly and release heat.
When the conditions are right, these fuels generate massive flames and a lot of the heat that a bushfire radiates. Burning leaves and twigs carried by the wind are called embers. A lot of space can be covered by embers. Ember attack is the main reason why houses burn down in bushfires. It can happen before, during, or even after the firefront has moved on. Branches, trees, and logs are heavy fuels that burn and radiate heat more slowly than fine fuels.
The behaviour of a bushfire can be affected by the air temperature, relative humidity, speed and direction of the wind, and stability of the atmosphere.
The less a fuel needs to be preheated to light, the hotter the air is.
When the humidity drops below 30%, the risk of fire goes up. Since there is less water in the air, fuels are drier and easier to light.
When the direction of the wind changes, so does the speed at which a fire moves and where it grows. Stronger winds can also carry embers and small pieces of burning material, which can start what is called “spot fires” ahead of the main fire front. Wind can also get faster as it goes up through hills or gullies.
The shape of the land, which is called the topography, has a big effect on how bushfires behave. A fire will burn faster uphill because the flames can heat up the fuel in front of the fire, making it burn more efficiently. As a general rule, every 10 degrees of lift will double the rate of fire. When a fire is moving downhill, its speed is cut in half for every 10 degrees of fall.
How does a bushfire spread?
There are three ways for bushfires to move across the ground.
1. Direct Flame Contact
When flames touch unburned fuels, they heat them up to the point where they can be ignited.
2. Radiant heat
The heat from the fire heats up nearby fuel to the point where it can be lit.
3. Burning embers
When burning embers land on fine fuels, they can start small fires. Fires can also spread up from the ground to fuels like scrub and bush in the middle and upper levels. Most of the time, the height of the flame is three to five times the height of the fuel.
How to prevent a bushfire?
Ideally, you will need at least two people to help you defend your property. If you have any doubts about your ability to stay and defend, or the preparedness of your property, you should plan to leave early.
Before the Fire
Before the fire gets close, make sure everyone is wearing protective clothing and has a P2 mask (a type of dust mask) to protect them from radiant heat, smoke, and embers.
They should also wear sturdy boots so that the hot ground doesn’t hurt their feet.
- Remind everyone of the plan and make sure they know what they are supposed to do.
- Get ready for the chance that the power and phone lines will go out.
- Charge mobile phones and tablet devices. Tune your battery-powered radio to your
local ABC station or one of our other Emergency Broadcast Partners, and keep extra batteries on hand.
- Let your family or friends know that you will be staying home.
- Get your house ready by taking down the curtains, moving furniture away from the windows, and shutting all the doors and windows.
- Keep your pets inside with enough food and water.
- Cover the inside of broken windows with tape so they stay in place.
Fill containers with water and get a flashlight and a ladder ready so you can check the space in the ceiling.
- Take anything that can catch fire off the outside of the house, like blinds, outdoor furniture, doormats, etc.
Block the downspouts and put water in the gutters.
Close all the doors and windows and put wet blankets and towels around the edges of the windows and doors.
During the Fire
Use a hose or sprinkler to water the plants near your house.
- Stay close to the house, drink water, and make sure others are safe.
- Look for embers or small fires both inside and outside the house.
As the firefront arrives
As the fire front approaches, bring all firefighting tools, like hoses and pumps, inside because they might melt in the fire.
- Go inside until the front of the fire passes, and make sure there are two ways out.
Check the inside of the house, including the ceiling, for embers or small fires. Look out the windows to see where the firefront is and what the weather is like outside.
After the firefront has passed
- Go outside and extinguish small fires and burning embers.
- Patrol the property inside and out, including the ceiling space and under decking, and extinguish any fires. Sparks and embers will continue to fall and smoulder, so you may need to keep checking for several hours or even days.
- Let everyone know that you are okay.
- Monitor the radio for updates
Before, during, and after a bushfire, it’s important to know about any possible emergencies in your area.
You can find out about bushfires and other emergencies in many different ways:
- The website for CFS is www.cfs.sa.gov.au
- For information about bushfires, call 1800 362 361 (TTY: 133 677)
- CountryFireService and CFS updates are on Facebook. @cfsalerts and @cfstalk are on Twitter.
- Emergency broadcast partners for TV and radio, such as ABC Local Radio
- People you know, like, and live near
During an emergency, you shouldn’t depend on just one source of information.
Keep a battery-powered or wind-up radio on hand in case the power goes out or your phone doesn’t work in an emergency. Sometimes the best warning comes from your own senses. During the Fire Danger Season, pay close attention to what’s going on around you.
Turia Pitt is one of the many survivors of a fire incident and burns injury. She was severely burned on over 65% of her body, but she didn’t let that stop her. In fact, she’s turned her experience into something positive by founding the charity tiaras for burns. If you want to learn more about how to respond to a burn emergency, or if you’re looking for first aid training in general, book a CPR First Aid course today at our Liverpool location. Our team of experienced professionals will teach you everything you need to know so that you can help in an emergency situation.