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Bushfires and your health

13-minute read

If you have inhaled smoke or are in a bushfire and have symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, wheezing, chest pain or tightness and cannot see a doctor urgently, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

For emergency help during a bushfire, call triple zero (000).

Key facts

  • Bushfires are common throughout Australia and can happen at any time of the year.
  • There is a higher risk of bushfires in areas close to the bush or grassland.
  • If you live in at risk areas, be prepared for a bushfire, make a survival plan and create an emergency kit for your health needs.
  • Bushfire smoke can have serious health effects.
  • Health conditions such as asthma, heart issues, and diabetes can be worse during a bushfire.

What is a bush fire?

Bushfires and grassfires are common in Australia and can lead to a natural disaster. Grassfires are fast moving, mainly damaging crops, fences and livestock. Bushfires are usually slower but have higher heat and have caused loss of life and huge damage to property.

Bushfires can happen at any time in Australia, although some areas will be at higher risk at a specific time of the year. It's important to be prepared all year round.

Am I at risk of a bushfire?

If you live, work or travel near bushland, grassland or farmland, you could be at risk of a bushfire. Even if you aren't that close, you could still be in danger if a fire breaks out, because embers from a bushfire can travel for many kilometres. Many houses suffer damage during a fire because embers have travelled from an outbreak elsewhere.

It's important to know your level of bushfire risk so you can prepare your property, protect your health and know what to do if a fire starts. Your local council or fire service can tell you how bushfire-prone your area is.

How do I prepare for a bushfire?

To ensure you are prepared for a bushfire, you should:

  • make a bushfire preparation plan (or bushfire survival plan)
  • prepare your property
  • prepare an emergency kit, considering your specific health needs and those of any family members or people you care for
  • be familiar with the fire danger ratings and alert areas used in your area.
  • stay informed and up to date about local conditions

Your local rural fire service will have information about preparing for a bushfire on its website. It may also have a template you can use to make a bushfire survival plan.

Having a well-thought-out plan is especially important if you are responsible for other people.

How can I stay informed about bushfires?

Your state or territory fire service will keep you informed about local fire conditions, danger ratings and warnings:

There are also some useful online resources and phone apps that can help you stay informed about fires, such as NSW Fires Near Me and MyFireWatch.

If there is a bushfire near you

  • tune into your local radio station
  • follow any TV news or advice broadcast by emergency services
  • and look out for emergency text messages on your mobile phone

You should also check your council's website or social media pages.

What health conditions or situations put me more at risk during a bushfire?

Some people are more at risk of health issues during a bushfire than others, including when they are around short or long-term smoke events.

  • Asthma: If smoke is a known trigger for your asthma, use your preventer medicine and make sure you have access to your reliever puffer. Follow your asthma action plan. Visit Asthma Australia for more advice.
  • Other lung conditions: If you have a health condition such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema, smoke can make your symptoms worse. Make sure you follow your COPD action plan and seek medical advice if necessary. Visit the Lung Foundation Australia website for more advice.
  • Heart and cardiovascular conditions: Smoke from bushfires can get into your bloodstream, contributing to inflammation and the narrowing of blood vessels. This can worsen existing conditions such as high blood pressure or heart failure. Read the Heart Foundation factsheet on bushfires and heart health.
  • Diabetes: If you have type 1 or 2 diabetes and are affected by a bushfire, it's essential that you know where to access more medicine. Visit the National Diabetes Service Scheme (NDSS) to find your nearest NDSS access point. If you have any questions about your diabetes medicine, call the NDSS Helpline on 1800 637 700.
  • Pregnancy: If you’re pregnant, try to minimise your exposure to bushfire smoke. Prolonged exposure to air pollution in pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of premature birth, lower birth weight, pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. Make a plan to leave early if your area is likely to be affected.
  • Older people: Older people are more at risk during a bushfire or when exposed to smoke. If you're an older person, make a plan to leave early if your area is likely to be affected and share the plan with carers or neighbours. If you're a younger person, offer to help elderly family, friends or neighbours. Use the Bushfires: Preparing to leave early plan here.
  • Children: Children are more affected, as they have developing airways and breathe more air compared to their body weight than adults.

If you or people in your care have limited mobility, a disability or medical conditions, take these into account when preparing for a bushfire. Make sure you leave early if there is a high fire danger, so you have plenty of time to get out safely.

Ask yourself:

How do I get a prescription or medicines in an emergency?

If you need to leave without your prescriptions or medicines, or they are lost try one of these options:

  • Contact your local pharmacy who may be able to call your doctor for a verbal prescription.
  • Request an eScript (electronic prescription) from your doctor.
  • Use a telehealth

Keep your doctor's information handy for these situations. If your doctor or medical centre doesn't offer telehealth consultations, you can use the healthdirect service finder to find a provider.

How can bushfire smoke affect your health?

You should also consider how smoke might affect you. Bushfire smoke can cause a range of problems, including:

Many of these problems are serious. If you have any of them speak to your doctor and if your symptoms are bad, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

If you need to go outdoors, wear a 'P2' face mask, available from chemists and hardware

  • Be sure it's fitted correctly, with an air-tight seal around the mouth and nose.
  • Do not smoke, use candles or incense sticks during a bushfire.

How can I manage my health during a heatwave?

Heat-related illnesses such as heatstroke can quickly become life-threatening. If you or someone near you is very unwell and does not respond to cooling and rehydration quickly (within 10 minutes), call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

  • There are many ways to manage your health and stay cool during hot weather:
  • Follow your doctor’s advice, keep your medicines close and speak with your doctor if your symptoms get worse.
  • Check the forecast in your area, available on the Bureau of Meteorology website.
  • Don’t do any intense outdoor activity.
  • Spend time indoors with the windows and doors closed, preferably using air conditioning in re-circulate mode
  • If you don’t have air conditioning at home, spend time in places like the movies or shopping centres.
  • Your mental health is important, so don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need support.

Read more on hot weather risks and staying cool and how to handle a heatwave.

Resources and support

If there is a fire, or someone's life is at risk, call triple zero (000).

These services provide advice and support to people affected by bushfires:

You can also call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 at any time to speak to a registered nurse (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) for more information and advice.

Find bush fire safety information in other languages on your state or territory fire service websites.

The Fire Danger Ratings Fact Sheet has also been translated to different languages.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2023

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