Make Your Gutters on Guard for Bushfire Season

Roof gutters are an important part of the infrastructure of your home. Their sole purpose is to collect the water off your roof when it rains and to ensure the excess water doesn’t damage the structural integrity of your home. They can be forgotten, due to the fact that they are up high and can’t be seen, and most people put off cleaning their gutters because they are scared of heights or worry about the dangers of the job. This can potentially lead to leaf litter and organic matter build up, defeating the purpose of gutter guards of letting rain water flow easily to stormwater or water tanks. With the inherent bushfire dangers and the risk of scaling a roof on your own, an experienced and professional gutter cleaning company with the right vacuum gutter cleaning equipment is the wise choice for a long lasting, no mess solution.

If you live in a bushfire prone area, you need to have your gutters checked by an experienced and professional gutter cleaning company more often than the standard ‘once a year.’ Over the autumn and winter months, deciduous trees lose their leaves and twigs, leaving blockages in your roof gutters. If you do have blockages, water can stagnate and allow weeds to grow, and if there is a dry period, especially over summer, the weeds will die leaving a plethora of crisp dry combustible fuel for fire to ignite. If your home is surrounded by deciduous trees, you will need to clean your gutters pre-winter for all the autumn leafy litter, and post-winter for all the fallen twigs and leaves through the winter storms. Native trees like eucalyptus and conifers drop leaves, branches and pine needles all year round. If you do have evergreen trees near your home that constantly shed their foliage, you will need to clear your gutters 3-4 times a year. This will mean having it cleaned properly and professionally, with an emphasis when spring comes to ensure there aren’t any birds’ nests sitting in your roof gutters, as well as a few times over summer to ensure your roof gutters are completely functional all year round to protect your home through the bushfire season.

All unwanted blockages and breakages are fuel for a bush fire, and a clean gutter will act like your last line of defence when a bushfire hits. As we enter the 2020/2021 bushfire season, we are going to talk about the nature of bushfire, the benefits of a clear roof gutter and downpipe system and how cleaning your roof gutters by experts can be just the start of getting your home ready for before, during and after a bushfire season.

Australia’s bushfire season is getting longer due to climate change. In Western Australia, the fire season in the north is June to October and in the south, October to April. In the east-coast, we’re seeing fire warnings start in September and goes on until April. That’s a long time to be on ‘bushfire’ alert. So, to understand why it is important to clean your gutters prior to and during bushfire season, you need to understand the characteristics of fire, and how it works.

1. The Ember Attack.

The number one reason to professionally clean your gutters prior to bushfire season is to protect your home from an ember attack. Ember attacks are the most common cause of house fires during a bushfire. As most people who live in regional areas know, it’s not the bushfire that’s the problem, it’s the embers. They can attack prior to a bushfire being in the area, during and even after a bushfire. It could be several days before you realise your home is at risk. Embers can sit in your gutters, hide in your roof line or wedge themselves under your decking boards, glowing hot, sometimes hotter than a fire itself, waiting for a stray leaf or twig to land on it, and start a fire that destroys your home.

Embers can fly up to 40 kilometres away from the heat of a bushfire and ignite anything that gets in their way. If you have dry leaves, grass, twigs and sticks nestled in your roof gutters, they will be the first things to catch and engulf your home with flames.

Embers can travel up to 25 kilometres per hour, so even if a fire is in the next town, your property could be up in flames within an hour. It comes that quickly. Embers can be a metre or more long of burning bark flying through the sky. It is frightening to see how quickly it can spread.

2. Fire Burns Faster Uphill.

If you are lucky enough to have a valley view and see the weather changing from afar, you might want to know when it’s time to get out. Fire burns faster uphill, and the radiant heat it creates pre-heats the fuel of the fire, making it more flammable. In a situation where you may encounter a small fire at ground level, you may be able to put the fire out where you can see it. However, the radiant heat from below has probably already been heating up the leaf litter in your roof gutters, essentially preparing your home to be engulfed.

The theory is, if a fire is approaching your home at 5 kilometres an hour, for every 10-degree slope, the fire speed doubles, and the heat intensifies. Once the fire hits your home it’s more often than not a 90-degree angle to the ground. The fire races up the side of your home, feeding off the leaves and debris in your roof gutters, racing around the storm-water tracks we call ‘roof gutters’ creating a circle of fire destroying your home.

However, if you live at the bottom of the valley and you see a fire on the hill, you’ll find that the fire will travel slower towards you, as it struggles to move on a downward slope.

3. Wind.

Wind in a bushfire is completely unpredictable. One minute it’s coming from the north at 30 kilometres an hour, the next, it swings around to the west at 60 kilometres an hour. You may think you’re in the clear one minute, but the next you’re not. If you don’t have your roof gutters clear of all debris, it’s just asking for those flying embers to land on your roof, roll into your gutters and start the fire that destroys your most precious possessions. The reality is, most people who die in bushfires because they didn’t expect the wind to move in their direction, and they didn’t have the time to evacuate. It is imperative to have an experienced and professional gutter cleaning company with the right vacuum gutter cleaning equipment clean out your roof gutters well ahead of fire season and keep checking them regularly to ensure there are no loose sticks, leaves or branches to give your home and yourselves a fighting chance.

4. Spot Fires

Spot fires are fires that start well away from the main fire front. They are generally created by flying embers that nestle in the leaf litter of your garden beds, a forest floor or in your roof gutters. Spot fires have a habit of joining together with other spot fires creating their own fire front, blocking all safe escape routes for evacuation.  Spot fires start fiercely, and your garden hose will never be a strong match to put out a spot fire, as spot fires are carried by the wind to create more spot fires, and act just like a plague, multiplying as quickly as they land, eventually hitting your home or your neighbours’ homes.

5. Radiant Heat

Radiant heat is felt sometimes kilometres away from a fire. Considered to be the biggest killer of a bushfire, the best protection from radiant heat is distance. As flames reach temperatures of 1100 degrees Celsius, radiant heat fluxes high enough to destroy vegetation before the flames hit it, then they help the hot flames, along the radiant heat path, to annihilate each and every plant, tree or building in its way. The hotter the bushfire, the quicker it will move.

Now we know how fire is fuelled and how it behaves, how can we prevent a bushfire happening at your home?

Clean roof gutters and downpipes can be your only saviour when a bushfire is imminent. An experienced and professional gutter cleaning company with the right vacuum gutter cleaning equipment is the safer option than scaling the roof yourself to remove leaf litter, branches, bark, grass and pine needles. These can act as fuel in the case of a fire, and minimising fuel to zero in your gutters means the likelihood of a fire engulfing your home is small. But another helpful hint is to use ‘gutter plugs’ to plug up your gutters and downpipes and then fill your gutters with water to create a cool fire-extinguishing barrier for embers to land and be destroyed.  Water will stop the embers at first contact, but will only work if your gutters are completely clear of debris, so ensure your gutters are clean before you plug them up and fill them with water. The Country Fire Authority recommend that if a bushfire is imminent, fill your gutters with water, but stay on the ground with a hose to water down the outside of your home. Standing on a ladder or the roof, statistically, can create more injuries such as falls compared to burns. Remember with bushfire, there is always wind. The wind will push you around, so it’s best to stay on the ground to be on the safe side when defending your home.

Cleaning your gutters is also a great way to check the condition of your roof. Employing a gutter cleaning company with the highest quality safety standards, and fully qualified roof tilers and tradesmen can also check the condition of your roof. They may find a cracked tile, a missing roof nail, some rust or an unsecure sheet of tin. Issues from your roof can enable embers to lodge themselves, allowing them to hit timber trusses, insulation or even electrical wiring, thus, starting a fire that can burn down your home. A gutter cleaning and roof tiling company can fix every hole, crack or nail, or replace any roof tiles, tin sheets or shingles prior to a fire season, and it will make your home less vulnerable to a fire attack.

While they are up on your roof clearing your gutters, they will also have a bird’s eye view of your water tanks, especially if they are at ground level. It’s just as important to clean your inlet areas around your water tanks, like you would your gutters and downpipes, and put a barrier on the inlet for the bushfire season to ensure ash, soot and fire retardant doesn’t contaminate your water supply.

Again, the same principles work for any decking you have around your home. Take note that there are no leaf litter hiding between the decking boards which needs to be removed. You have to remember, any small space where embers can land and smoulder need to be cleared from potential hazards to ensure your home stays safe.  That includes your sheds, garages, stables, barns, gazebos, pool-house and carports. Any building that has guttering or gaps for embers to catch onto, needs to be checked prior to bushfire season.

Other precautions you can take to make your home safe, is to cut down any branches hanging over your home or shed, and keep your gardens, shrubs and lawn tidy especially those that are close to your buildings so that if a fire was to approach your home, it won’t have the fuel to continue its growth. Lawns should be mowed to under ten centimetres long, and shrubs should be cut away from the side of the house.

The reality is, not many people think clearly in an emergency. If you’re prepared with a bushfire plan, and use a professional and experienced gutter cleaning company to carefully maintain your home and outbuildings clearing all debris in their gutters, you will have a fighting chance of coming through a bushfire unscathed. And don’t forget your downpipes need a clear out too. A house can be completely engulfed with flames within five minutes, and most fires start in the gutters or in the little spaces along the roofline or your deck, so it’s extremely important to take care of them. Prevention is the best cure in all things, so make sure that a professional and experienced cleaning of your gutters is the first thing on your fire-prevention check-list. Give yourself the peace of mind that you’ve done everything you can to make your home and, more importantly, your family, stay safe this bushfire season.

What are roof gutters for?

Their sole purpose is to collect the water off your roof when it rains and to ensure the excess water doesn’t damage the structural integrity of your home.

If you live in a bushfire area how often should you clean your gutters?

You need to have your gutters checked by an experienced and professional gutter cleaning company more often than the standard ‘once a year'.

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