Health and Safety when Returning home after a bushfire

You  must be cautious when returning to your property. Check with local  emergency services that it is safe and that you have permission to  return.

Protective clothing

Put on protective clothing before entering your property:

  • Sturdy footwear and heavy-duty gloves.
  • Overalls with long sleeves and trousers (preferably disposable).
  • Special  face masks (called ‘P2’). Ordinary paper dust masks, handkerchiefs and  bandanas do not filter out fine ash or dusts or asbestos fibres.

Be alert to all hazards

If you have a septic tank, it may have been weakened so do not drive or walk over it.

Minimise  disturbance of dust and ash, which may contain hazardous materials. Do  not spread ash around, moisten it with water to minimise dust.

Be  alert for hazardous materials such as LPG cylinders, chemicals  (garden/farm), cleaning products, medicines and other burnt residues.

If  you are using portable generators make sure they are in a  well-ventilated area to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

There may also be overhead hazards such as falling trees and tree limbs, and live power lines.


Exposure  to asbestos fibres is only likely to occur when people actively disturb  ashes on properties built with asbestos-cement sheeting (buildings  built before 1990).

If asbestos is likely to be present, you must get a licensed asbestos removalist to do the clean-up work.

Ash from treated timber

CCA-treated  wood is commonly used in decking, fencing and landscaping. After a  fire, the ash from this wood contains copper, chromium and arsenic. This  ash can be harmful; keep children and pets away. Seek advice from your  local council on ash disposal.

Rainwater tanks

The  risk to human health is low from contaminated rainwater tanks in  bushfire-affected areas. However, if fire-fighting foams have entered  your tank, do not drink the water and do not give it to pets to drink.

If  your rainwater tank is intact and the water has no abnormal look,  smells or taste, it should be safe to use. It is safest to boil  untreated water that you plan to drink. If the rainwater looks, smells  or tastes unusual, assume it is contaminated and don’t drink it or use  it for cooking, or preparing food.

Check your roof and guttering  for ash, debris and animal carcasses. Remove them as soon as possible to  avoid contaminants getting flushed into your tank.

If your  rainwater has been contaminated, drain the tank and allow it to refill  with clean rainwater or fill it with water from a registered water  carter.

For more information visit

Food safety

Throw  away all perishable food if the power has been off for more than a day.  For shorter outages, if food is still cold to touch (less than 50C) it is safe to use.

Once cold or frozen food has warmed or thawed, it should be thrown out.

Cleaning your property

Wear adequate protective clothing when handling debris outside.

Smoke and soot in the home

Open  all doors and windows to ventilate your home to help remove any smoke  odour. Hard surfaces (furniture, walls and floors) can be washed with  mild soap or detergent and water. Soft furniture and bedding can be  aired outside.


Clothes that smell  of smoke and clothes that had been left on the clothes line should be  washed normally and dried outside. Rewashing of clothes ensures  sensitive skin is protected from soot, particles and ash.

Smoke and your health

Smoke  may still be present in your area following a bushfire and may last for  up to two weeks if there is no wind to clear the air.

Air pollution

High smoke levels may cause or worsen breathing (respiratory) problems for some people.

Those  most at risk are children, the elderly, smokers and people with  pre-existing heart and lung diseases, including asthma. These people  should avoid unnecessary travel to affected areas.

What you should do

There are a number of steps you can take to protect your health:

  • Follow your asthma action plan or your individual health plan.
  • Avoid physical activity outdoors.
  • Stay indoors with windows and doors closed where possible.
  • Switch air conditioners to ‘recycle’ or ‘recirculate’.
  • When indoors, minimise other sources of air pollution such as tobacco smoke and wood stoves.
  • If your home gets too smoky or hot for comfort, consider going somewhere with less smoke or with air conditioning.

Keeping track of the smoke

Check the smoke particle levels in your area through the Environment Protection Authority’s real-time air quality data

Air quality notifications are activated when smoke levels are high in an area for just one hour.

You can see when an air quality notification is active in your area and follow the recommended precautions

You can download the free AirRater app to keep track of air quality in your area.

Further information

Contact  Public Health Services for further advice about possible hazards, the  health effects of smoke, current air quality and further factsheets.

Phone 1800 671 738, email or visit

This page is produced by the Department of Health

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