Cleaning up after a bushfire fact sheet
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If your property has been affected by a bushfire, it is important to be aware of the environmental risks and safety measures associated with cleaning up any damage.
There are a range of hazards and risks that should be considered and managed after a bushfire. This includes reduced visibility due to smoke, falling trees and branches, and hazards associated with burnt or fire affected homes and structures.
Houses, sheds, appliances, and other buildings or structures that are burnt in a bushfire can also leave potential health hazards in the remaining rubble and ash.
Before going back to your property to clean up or retrieve personal items, be aware of the potential risks.
Only return to your home, business or premises when emergency services declare it is safe to do so.
Reach out to your State-Government appointed Local Recovery Coordinator if you need advice or assistance.
If you are insured, contact your insurance company before you start any cleaning or repairs, as they may assist you. If you are uninsured, visit a Relief Centre where staff and volunteers can help organise ongoing support and clean up through not-for-profit partners.
Make sure you wear protective clothing before entering your property, including long sleeves, trousers, gloves and sturdy shoes.
When possible, avoid taking children onto fire damaged properties. If this is unavoidable, ensure they are supervised and wear protective clothing.
Watch out for falling limbs from fire damaged and heat stressed trees.
The presence of ash, debris and fire retardants in rainwater are not a health risk. It could affect colour, turbidity and taste, however it may still be safe to drink if you have no other options. For more information, see the Bushfires and rainwater quality page.
Avoid driving, walking over or near your on-site wastewater management system, including septic tanks and aerated wastewater treatment systems, as they may have been weakened or destroyed in the fire.
The on-site wastewater system should be inspected for bushfire damage by a licensed plumber or service technician. Arrangements should be made for repair of the system as soon as possible. Reduce water use as much as possible until the system is inspected and repaired.
For more information see the Bushfires and on-site wastewater systems fact sheet (PDF 215KB).
During a bushfire, the amount of asbestos fibres released into the air is likely to be low.
After a bushfire, asbestos fibres can be disturbed by clean-up work. If you suspect your property may contain asbestos, the debris must be disposed of safely and securely.
Contractors must only enter the site in full personal protective equipment and all debris must be securely bagged and transported in a sealed tray.
Not all landfills are equipped to accept and dispose of debris that contains asbestos. Visit the asbestos website for advice and information on managing asbestos.
CCA-treated wood is commonly used in structures such as pergolas, decking, fencing and landscaping. After a fire, the ash from this wood contains up to 10% (by weight) arsenic, copper and chromium. Swallowing only a few grams of this can be harmful. Children, pets and other animals must be kept away from these ash areas until clean-up is completed.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides advice on disposal of burnt CCA treated timber.
There are a range of options for on-farm disposal of animal carcasses. The disposal method will depend on the number and size of animal carcasses. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides advice on waste management issues.
Hazardous material that may be present after a fire includes:
Visit the Green Industries website for more information on drop off centre opening hours and accepted items.
It is best to throw out any food that has been near a fire, including food in cans and jars even if it appears OK.
Any raw food, or food in packaging such as cardboard, plastic wrap, screw topped jars and bottles should also be thrown out. It is best to throw out food from the fridge and freezer as fumes can get inside.
Wash cooking utensils exposed to fire-fighting chemicals in soapy hot water, then sanitise using one tablespoon of chlorine bleach per two litres of water and rinse.
If you have had a power outage, the food in your fridge and freezer might not be safe to eat.
It's important to know how to keep your food cool and what to do with your perishables when the power comes back on.
If the power outage goes on for an extended period, there are safe food options that have a longer shelf life and don’t need to be kept in the fridge. For more information, visit the Food Safety in an emergency page to learn more.