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Bushfires and your health

4-minute read

Bushfires are a common natural disaster in Australia. They bring with them risks, not just to land and property, but also to health and lives.

Bushfires can occur at any time, throughout Australia, although generally a region will be at greatest risk at a specific time of the year. This means we need to be prepared all year round.

Am I at risk of a bushfire occurring?

It’s important to understand 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.

If you live, work or travel near bushland, grassland or farmland, you could be at risk, but even if you aren’t that close, you could still be in danger if a fire breaks out. This is because when there is a bushfire, embers can travel for many kilometres. In fact, most houses suffer damage during a fire because embers have travelled from an outbreak elsewhere.

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, taking into account your specific health needs and those of any family members and people you care for
  • be familiar with the fire danger ratings used in your area (for example, ‘severe’ or ‘extreme’), as well as bushfire alert levels (for example, ‘watch and act’ or ‘emergency warning’)
  • stay informed and up to date about local conditions (see below)

Your local rural fire service will have information about preparing for a bushfire on its website. They 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.    

What health risks does a bushfire bring?

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

You should ask yourself:

  • Does your emergency kit contain relevant prescriptions?
  • Are there medicines, or special equipment, you will need to take with you when you leave?
  • Will the place you are going to have the resources you need?

You should also consider how smoke might affect you. Smoke from a bushfire can cause a range of problems, including shortness of breath and cough, and many of these problems are serious.

If possible, stay inside with the windows and doors closed, preferably with the air conditioning on. You can wear a 'P1' or 'P2' face mask (available from chemists and hardware stores) if needed.

If you have an existing lung condition, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema, smoke can make your symptoms worse. Make sure you follow your asthma or COPD action plan, and seek medical advice if necessary.

How can I stay informed?

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 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 sign up for any emergency text message services in your area.

Further information and help

If someone’s life is at risk, call triple zero (000).

For emergency help during a bushfire, contact your State Emergency Service (SES) on 132 500.

Other sources of information and help:

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

Last reviewed: January 2019

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