Health & safety

Dealing with the aftermath of a bushfire can be a challenging and upsetting experience. To help you through this, we've provided some advice below.

Hazards

Even if your property hasn't been directly affected by the bushfire, there are many health & safety concerns to be aware of on returning to your property. For safety reasons, only adults should help clean up after a bushfire. When you return home you will need to take extra care, and be aware of the following.

Properties directly impacted by the bushfire

If your home or land was directly impacted by the bushfire:

  • Do not enter your property until you have been told that it is safe by emergency services, Western Power or Horizon Power, or the City on 9267 9267.
  • Be aware of fallen trees, smouldering stumps and hot spots.
  • Buildings and other structures may be unstable to enter or walk on. Contact us on 9267 9267 to seek advice about making sure it is safe before you enter.
  • Be aware that hot, smouldering coals and other potentially hazardous materials may be hidden under the rubble.
  • If you think buildings on your property may contain asbestos cement sheeting, take extra care.
  • there may be hazards from metals and other residues from burnt household appliances
  • Make sure you wear adequate protective clothing, gloves and shoes before handling any debris, ash or other waste.

Properties near the bushfire area, plus those directly impacted

Please be aware of the following potential hazards as you assess your property and start your clean-up.

  • asbestos
  • ash from burnt treated timbers - 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 per cent (by weight) arsenic, copper and chromium.
  • medicines
  • garden or farm chemicals
  • other general chemicals, such as cleaning products or pool chlorine
  • ash and dust.
  • drinking water - if you have any concerns about the safety of your drinking water please view the section on water tanks below for more information.
  • Fire suppressant from aircraft.

Gas cylinders

Please avoid handling gas cylinders which may have been damaged or impacted by the fires. If you are worried about gas cylinders on your property or around your suburb, contact your supplier who should come to remove the bottles. If any bottles are attached to standing houses, but have been subjected to any substantial heat, please also contact your supplier, so they can be checked to see if the safety vent has been compromised in any way.

Fire suppressant 

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) drops fire suppressant retardants from aircraft during bush firefighting operations to help slow the spread of fire. A-Class foams can also be applied by firefighters in controlling and containing a fire, and this helps to protect properties. Read the fact sheet(PDF, 284KB) to learn what to do if these suppressants have been used on your property. 

If you would like to be contacted by a DFES representative to discuss whether fire retardants were used on or in proximity to your property, please submit an information about the use of fire retardant request form(DOCX, 706KB).

Demolition

If you have to demolish a building or structure, you may require a permit. Please contact us on 9267 9267 or visit our demolition page further information.

Further safety advice and information can be found on the Healthy WA website.

Swimming Pools

After a bushfire, a swimming pool may contain debris including ash. This may affect the chemical balance of the water and cause contamination.

Contaminated swimming pools can be:

  • a source of odours and bacteria
  • a breeding place for mosquitoes
  • a risk to people who use them

There are several crucial steps pool owners can take to clean and maintain their pool to ensure it can be safely used again:

  • To start with, it is important to remove as much debris and ash from the pool and ensure the skimmer and pump baskets are clean
  • Remove as much debris as possible from the surface of the water with a leaf rake
  • Turn the pool pump on to skim any remaining ash and leaves from the surface of the water
  • Take a water sample to your local store to be assessed and they will advise what’s required to safely rebalance your pool water and ensure it’s fine for swimming
  • The service technician will also advise whether the pool requires flocculant
  • If the ash and dirt is substantial, use a liquid or granular flocculant to make the debris and organic matter drop to the floor
  • Clean your filtration. For cartridge filters, remove the cartridge and hose it down. For sand and media filters, backwash and rinse the filter
  • If staining has occurred, see your local retailer for the appropriate solution

For more information, visit the Department of Health website or email swimmingpools@health.wa.gov.au 

Water tanks

Water in rainwater tanks on your property can be contaminated during or after a bushfire, either indirectly by ash, smoke, debris or directly by fire and fire fighting activities.

If there is any risk of contamination, do not use water from your rainwater tank for the following activities:

  • drinking
  • preparing foods
  • making ice
  • washing and bathing
  • cleaning teeth
  • watering animals.

How can I tell if the water in my tank has been contaminated?

You should assume that the water in your tank is contaminated if:

  • your roof is covered by ash or other fire debris
  • there are dead animals on your roof or gutters or in your tank
  • you think that your roof was covered by fire suppressant water either dropped by aircraft or sprayed from ground units
  • the tank has been burnt by fire and the internal lining material is damaged
  • the plumbing to or from the tank is damaged
  • the water is cloudy, tastes or smells unusual or has an unusual colour
  • the water contains debris or ash
  • the water level has increased.

You can use contaminated rainwater for some jobs

If you think that your water tank has been contaminated in any way, you can still use the water to:

  • flush toilets
  • water the garden
  • wash clothes (providing it will not stain clothes)
  • wash cars
  • fight fires.

Using any rainwater contaminated with ash or other debris to fill swimming pools or in evaporative air conditioners may clog filters and pumps. Contact the air conditioner, filter or pump manufacturer for advice.

Other sources of water

Water drawn from deep bores or wells should be safe to use. Do not obtain water from a creek or stream that has been affected by bushfire as the water may be contaminated.

First rains

Ensure that all rainwater from the first good rainfall event after the fire is run to waste, as this may be contaminated by ash and other pollutants from the fire.

Water testing

Water testing is usually not necessary as contamination after a bushfire is usually obvious.

Can I treat rainwater to a drinking water standard if it has been contaminated?

No, it is usually very difficult and expensive to remove effectively any contamination caused by fire suppressants or any other potentially harmful byproducts caused by ash from burnt bush, plastics and metals.

Refilling your rainwater tank

You may need to drain and refill your tank with water from a commercial water carting company. Before you do, make sure that:

  • the tank or any associated pipework has not been damaged by fire
  • the tank has been desludged and cleaned, if contaminated, by a specialist contractor.

Do not reconnect your down pipes until your roof and gutters have been cleaned or rainwater from the first rains after the fire has been run to waste.

Make sure that the commercial carting company:

  • uses the tanker exclusively for drinking water
  • gets the water from a scheme drinking water supply
  • has treated the water with at least 1 milligram per litre of chlorine while in transit
  • follows the Department of Health water carting guidelines.

Find more information on the Department of Health website