This study examined decisions made by householders under wildfire threat. Data were obtained from interviews with survivors of severe wildfires in Victoria (Australia) on 7 February 2009 which killed 172 civilians and destroyed more than 2000 homes. Prior to this, Australian fire agency community wildfire safety policy was that residents should: 'Prepare, stay and defend or leave early'. Most of the 223 interviewees who stayed and defended did so because this was their wildfire safety plan, and they believed that they would be successful despite the predicted extreme fire danger weather. In 79% of cases, defence was successful; for the remaining 21% the house was destroyed and several lives were imperilled. Of the 216 who left for a safer location only 39% said that this was their wildfire safety plan; for most, the action of leaving was triggered by realisation of the imminent threat posed by the fire; 36% self-evacuated under hazardous conditions. The findings suggest that community wildfire safety programs should emphasize: (a) the risks associated with staying to defend a property; and (b) how householders should prepare in order to leave safely if a fire threatens.