Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Bushfires and your health

7-minute read

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

On this page


Bushfires are common in Australia and can lead to a natural disaster. 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.

Bushfires can occur at any time in Australia, although some regions will be at greatest risk at a specific time of the year. But it's important to be prepared 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, since embers from a bushfire can travel for many kilometres. Most houses suffer damage during a fire because embers have travelled from an outbreak elsewhere.

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 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, 'How can I stay informed about bushfires?', below)

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.

Health risks associated with bushfires

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

Ask yourself:

If you need to leave without your prescriptions or medications, or they are lost, you may still be able to get an emergency supply of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) subsidised medication from a pharmacist. Ask your pharmacist about the 'Continued Dispensing' arrangement.

How bushfire smoke can affect your health

You should also consider how smoke might affect you. Bushfire smoke 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 and set to re-circulate. When outdoors, you can wear a 'P2' face mask (available from chemists and hardware stores) provided it's fitted correctly, with an air-tight seal around the mouth and nose.

Health conditions that put you more at risk during a bushfire

Certain groups are more at risk of health issues during a bushfire or when exposed to both short-term and long-term bushfire smoke.

  • Asthma: If smoke is a known trigger for your asthma symptoms, use your preventer medication and make sure you have access to your reliever medication. Follow your asthma action plan. Visit Asthma Australia for more advice.

  • Other lung conditions: If you have an existing 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 website for more advice.

  • Heart and cardiovascular conditions: Smoke from bushfires can get into the 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 medication. Visit the National Diabetes Service Scheme (NDSS) to find your nearest NDSS access point. If you have any questions about your diabetes medication, call the NDSS Helpline on 1800 637 700.

  • Pregnancy: Pregnant women should minimise their 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. Find out how to help protect yourself at Pregnancy Birth and Baby.

  • Older people: The elderly 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.

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 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.

More resources and support

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

These links provide advice and support to people affected by bushfires and bushfire smoke:

These factsheets are also available in other languages:

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 to talk to a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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

Last reviewed: January 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Pregnant women, children and bushfire smoke

Bushfire smoke is a serious health hazard, especially for pregnant women and children. Find out here how to limit your own and your family's exposure.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Bushfire smoke | National Centre for Farmer Health

Bushfire smoke contains toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and particles, all of which can be hazardous to your health. Read more...

Read more on National Centre for Farmer Health website

Bushfire smoke and your health | Health and wellbeing | Queensland Government

Bushfire smoke can reduce air quality in rural and urban areas and may affect people’s health. This page provides information on bushfire smoke, how it can affect you and your family’s health, and actions that you can take to avoid or reduce potential health effects.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Asthma Triggers: Bushfire and Smoke - Asthma Australia

Learn more about the triggers by bushfires and smoke to those with asthma. Stay on top of the risks with an asthma first aid plan.

Read more on Asthma Australia website

Bushfires - Emergency information for communities - Better Health Channel

Collated information for communities relating to bushfires, including what to do during a bushfire as well as what happens afterwards.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Bushfires and asthma - National Asthma Council Australia

Bushfires and asthma first aid

Read more on National Asthma Council Australia website

Bushfires and mental health

People may be at risk of developing anxiety or depression after experiencing a traumatic event such as the current bushfire crisis.

Read more on Beyond Blue website

Bushfire information and management - Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Bushfire alerts and warnings, Bushfires Act NT, fire management, mitigation and advisory groups, bushfire resources.

Read more on NT Health website

Bushfire aftermath - safety tips - Better Health Channel

Houses, sheds and other buildings or structures burnt in a bushfire can leave potential health hazards.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

ACT Bushfires - December 2019 - Services Australia

Assistance is available if you can show you lost income as a direct result of the bushfires in the ACT in December 2019 and January 2020.

Read more on Centrelink website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo