Returning home safely after a bushfire
Returning home after a bushfire can be difficult, stressful and sometimes hazardous.
Be safe when you return home
Where possible, try to avoid taking children and vulnerable people onto fire-damaged properties. If you do, ensure they remain protected at all times.
Check with your local emergency services that it is safe to return to your property.
Protect yourself against injury
When you return, wear protective clothing including:
- sturdy footwear and heavy-duty work gloves
- disposable coveralls (with long sleeves and trousers)
- P2/N95 face mask.
You should also take bottled water, sunscreen and a hat.
For health and safety reasons, try not to spend long periods of time at your property.
When leaving the property, pack your gloves, coveralls and face mask into a garbage bag. Wash your hands after removing contaminated clothing and articles. Clean your shoes before wearing them again.
Have a plan before you go
Going back to your property for the first time may be overwhelming. Having a plan will help.
List the tasks you want to carry out and the important items you want to remove, such as:
- credit cards
- medications and prescriptions
- insurance and legal documents
- glasses, hearing aids or personal aids
- wallets, jewellery and other valuables
- photo albums, videos
You may need to contact your insurance company before removing any items.
Take care in smoky conditions
Smoke may be present for some time after a bushfire.
Smoke can cause health issues including:
- smoke irritation
Wear a P2 mask to reduce your exposure. Check the air quality in your area before you return.
Stay away from fallen powerlines
Fallen power lines may be live and cause electrocution.
You can also call energy providers to report electricity damage, including:
Be careful around buildings after a bushfire
Do not enter damaged buildings or structures, unless authorities tell you it is safe.
Houses, sheds and other structures damaged by bushfire can leave hazards like:
- unstable walls
- fallen and sharp objects
- hot coals
- damaged electrical wires
- leaking gas.
Be alert to animals that may have taken refuge in the building, structure or furniture.
Contact a licensed builder, tradesperson or contractor to check and reconnect services and do any repair work associated with:
- unstable structures
- electrical wiring, plumbing, drainage, gasfitting
- air conditioners and solar energy panels.
To check the licence details of a tradesperson, visit the Service NSW website.
Solar panels may be dangerous
Solar panels produce electricity even when power has been cut and the panels turned off at the switchboard.
Beware of hazardous materials
Hazardous materials that may be present after a bushfire include:
- ash from timbers treated with copper chrome arsenic
- metals and other remains of appliances
- LP gas bottles.
Read the guidance on how to stay safe during bushfire clean up.
Water quality after a bushfire
After a bushfire, rainwater may be contaminated by large amounts of ash and dust, dead animals, debris or fire retardants.
Water quality may also be affected if the:
- water tank or plumbing has been burnt or damaged
- water level has risen due to water bombing.
Small amounts of ash, debris and fire retardants in rainwater are unlikely to be a health risk but could affect the appearance and taste.
Find out more about what to do if fire retardants may have affected your water supply.
If you think your rainwater has been contaminated, find an alternative safe water supply, such as bottled water for:
- preparing food or ice
- cleaning teeth
Find more about water quality after a bushfire.
On-site wastewater systems can be damaged by bushfire. This includes:
- septic tanks
- aerated wastewater treatment systems
- below-ground drippers.
Avoid contact with sewerage or untreated wastewater from damaged systems.
Contact a licensed plumber or service technician familiar with on-site wastewater systems to get it inspected.
Contact your local council for guidance on what to do while your system is being repaired or replaced.
Learn more about wastewater systems and bushfire.
Food safety after a bushfire
Throw out all foods that have been fire-damaged or affected by heat.
This includes all perishable and non-perishable foods, including all packaged foods.
Find out more about food safety and cleaning up after a bushfire.
Caring for animals after a bushfire
Call the Agriculture and Animal Services Hotline for information on:
- animal assessment and vet help
- stock euthanasia and burial
- emergency fodder and stock water
- livestock feeding and management
- the care of animals in evacuation centres.
If you find an injured native animal contact:
- WIRES (24 hours, 7 days a week) 1300 094 737
- RSPCA NSW on 1300 278 358
- a local wildlife rescue organisation.
Find out what you can do to assist wild animals before, during and after a bushfire.