recovering from a bushfire

In the aftermath of a bushfire you will need to mentally and emotionally prepare for the changes to your home and community.
After a bushfire

In the wake of a bushfire, it can be incredibly daunting to return home. It’s difficult to anticipate what you’ll find. So if you have been given the all-clear to return by emergency services, you need to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself and your family for the changes to your home and community. If you live alone, you may want to bring someone with you when you first return to provide support through this difficult time.

It’s important to remember that even if a fire has passed, there is always a risk of flareups, so you must follow instructions and stay informed. You can do so by speaking to local police, emergency services personnel or local authorities, or listening to your local ABC radio.

If telephone and internet are accessible:

Returning home

A fire can be very destructive, leaving some homes untouched while completely devastating others. If your home has been badly damaged and you need a place to stay or require financial assistance, you can seek help from a number of welfare agencies that can provide you with the support you need during this difficult time.

Exercise extreme caution on the road, as roadblocks may still be in place. Police-managed roadblocks are for your safety, and for emergency services to have safe access to the fire.

A restricted access permit may be issued to residents, business owners or utility companies or other approved persons to:

  • Manage live electricity and downed power lines;
  • collect valuables and/or pets;
  • transport things like milk, water, stock feed and store supplies;
  • tend to livestock or;
  • undertake other approved activities.

There may still be some hazards in the area such as:

  • Live electricity and downed power lines.
  • Leaking gas (odour or hissing).
  • Septic or sewage leaking.
  • Burnt stumps, trees and smouldering burnt ground that may still be hot.
  • Fallen trees, low and dropping branches.
  • Damaged infrastructure including walls, bridges, roads and footpaths.

Recovering and restoring household items

We all have personal items we value and special things we need in life. After a fire, these are important to have if not damaged. If parts of your home have not been destroyed and it is safe to enter, you may want to retrieve family items and essential documents. Although it will be emotionally difficult, having these things can help you deal with the overall trauma of loss. If your personal documents have been partially damaged, the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials can provide further information on how you can salvage your family’s precious belongings.

When you enter your home, do it safely and while wearing the appropriate safety equipment like gloves and sturdy boots, and try to find these items:

  • Identification documents such as passport, birth certificate and drivers licence.
  • Car keys, wallet, credit cards and cheque books.
  • Any legal documents or certificates.
  • Insurance information and policy documents.
  • Medications that have not been affected by the fire.
  • Personal aids such as glasses, hearing aids or prosthetic devices.
  • Personal items such as jewellery and photo albums.

Insurance, repairs and rebuilding

As soon as you can after a fire, contact your insurance company to report any damage or loss. They will need to send an assessor to your property to process your claim. Depending on their advice, you may be able to begin repairs and any rebuilding. Make sure you follow simple steps to ensure your claim is dealt with correctly.

  • Check to see if your policy covers you for emergency accommodation, if staying with family or friends is not an option.
  • Check with your insurance company before you enter a contract with cleaning or repair contractors, to avoid additional bills.
  • If you are a tenant and have contents insurance you should also contact your insurer, in addition to telling your real estate agent, owner,  landlord or Department of Communities Housing Authority.
  • If you cannot remember the name of your insurance company or the details are not available, you can contact the Insurance Council of Australia on 1300 728 228.

Leaving your home

Finding temporary accommodation for you and your family in the immediate aftermath of a fire is stressful. When you have to leave your home because it is unsafe or has structural damage, and you’re unable to rely on friends and relatives, you can contact the services below for help.

Emergency accommodation assistance

  • Crisis Care (CPFS) can help you find crisis accommodation and assist with longer term housing. 9223 1111 or free call 1800 199 008 (day or night).
  • Entrypoint Perth (CPFS) can help families and individuals who require access to Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) and other accommodation and/or support services. 6496 0001 or 1800 124 684.
  • For longer term housing options contact the Homeless Advisory Service, Department of Housing: Free call 1800 065 892 (between 8am and 5pm Monday to Friday).

Lifestock, Pet and Wildlife Welfare

There’s a lot to think about in the wake of a fire, and your beloved pets and livestock will be part of your immediate concern. If you have safe and authorised access to your property, ensure that animals continue to have access to adequate shelter, food and water, and check that they are not exposed to any hazards. If your pets or animals have suffered any injuries or trauma, try to deal with these without delay. While it may be distressing to see them suffering, there is help available for you.

Further Assistance

Your Wellbeing

Traumatic experiences such as being involved in a fire can be sudden and overwhelming. It is normal for people to feel unsettled and disrupted for a while. In most cases there are no signs of physical injury, but there can be a serious emotional toll. Some symptoms can include depression, anxiety, sadness, anger, fatigue, nightmares and difficulty concentrating.

If you find you do not return to your normal routine after a few weeks it is important to seek professional help.

Children can also suffer from stress following a fire. Understanding and recognising your child’s responses to these events can assist you in providing support and helping them to cope effectively with the feelings, thoughts and behaviours they are experiencing.