Building on a recognised information-to-action gap in wildfire risk communication, this paper examines what being physically and mentally ‘well prepared’ actually means to wildfire agency staff and volunteers in charge of disseminating risk information. Using the results of an open-ended survey conducted in southeast Australia, we examine how a set of preparedness messages is interpreted. The paper demonstrates that the concept of wildfire preparedness is ambiguous, and that being ‘well prepared’ is a complex mix of practical and mental preparedness measures. Many of the individual interpretations of preparedness messages are found to not align with the official outlined intent. In particular, we argue that the lack of a clear definition and engagement with ‘mental preparedness’ in wildfire risk communication has resulted in an inability to clearly relate to, and articulate what it means to be both physically and mentally prepared for wildfire. The survey illustrates how even well-trained wildfire management professionals and volunteers misinterpret relatively uncontested risk messages, and we describe how these misinterpretations might result in dangerous decisions if wildfire threat is realised. The work also reveals three key themes that define different aspects of mental preparedness: emotional control, understanding psychological strain, and the ability to know when and how to implement a wildfire plan. The paper concludes that wildfire risk communication efforts can be improved through heightened attention to the disseminators’ as well as the recipients’ understanding, explanation and adoption of risk information.