Returning home safely after bushfires

People returning to bushfire affected areas are being advised to exercise great caution to avoid injury and other harms on fire-damaged properties.

Director of Public Health and Chief Health Officer, Dr Roscoe Taylor, said returning residents must take steps to protect their health and safety when going back to homes and businesses after bushfires.

"Returning to properties after a bushfire is a recognised time of risk and residents should take a number of steps to keep themselves and their families safe," Dr Taylor said.

"The desire to go home is understandable but it needs to be done carefully and safely to avoid serious injury.

"Buildings or structures burnt in a bushfire can present many dangers including fallen or sharp objects, broken glass, smouldering coals, damaged or live electrical wires, leaking gas and weakened walls.

"There may also be risks from hazardous materials including asbestos, ash from burnt treated timbers and farm or garden chemicals.

"Before entering your property first check with local emergency services that it is safe and you have permission to return.

"Consider seeking medical advice before returning to your property if you have a pre-existing heart or lung condition.

"Find alternative care for children and pets. Access should be limited until hazards are cleared.

"And be prepared. Returning to your property may be stressful and exhausting. It's best to limit time spent at your property if it has been burnt out."

Dr Taylor advised people intending to be at their property for extended periods to take bottled drinking water; soap, water and alcohol-based hand gel to clean hands before eating and after going to the toilet and sunscreen along with a hat.

"Put on protective gear before entering your property including sturdy footwear, heavy-duty work gloves, disposable overalls with long sleeves and trousers and a P2 face mask, sometimes called N95 masks," Dr Taylor said.

"When you are onsite minimise disturbance of dust and ash which may contain hazardous materials.

"Moisten ash with water to minimise dust. Do not use high-pressure water sprays as this can stir up dust.

"Do not spread ash around your property, particularly if asbestos or ash from CCA-treated timber may be present.

"If you have a septic tank it may have been weakened so do not drive or walk over it.

"If you have a rainwater tank, you will need to check for water contamination - specific information on how to do this and how to clean your roof is available from our public health website and is already being provided to residents in some areas.

"If you are using portable generators make sure they are in a well-ventilated area to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide positioning.

"And when you leave your property remove protective clothing, dispose of gloves, overalls and face masks in a garbage bag, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean shoes before wearing them again."

Returning to your property safely - fact sheet

For more information on returning home safely, the fire situation and support services, contact
1800 567 567.

Up-to-date information on the fires can also be found at the Tasmania Fire Service website www.fire.tas.gov.au.

Information on grants and other support available to those affected by fires can be found at www.dpac.tas.gov.au/bushfires

8 January 2013