Managing contaminant risks after a fire

Impacted residents and those assisting in the recovery stage on fire-affected properties are encouraged to take care and follow government advice on clean-up assistance, waste disposal and personal safety.

Do not enter your property until you are advised that it is safe to do so. If a hazard identification notice is displayed on the property, note the dangers identified and seek advice on management. A range of assistance measures are available (emergency.nsw.gov.au) to support people affected by bushfires.

The following information relates specifically to managing contamination risks to animals after a bushfire. Further information on managing the welfare of livestock after a fire.

Ash and debris in stock water

The quality of stock drinking water such as dams, waterways and troughs can be affected by ash and other debris following a bushfire. This is unlikely to be a health risk to animals, assuming stagnation has not occurred and water is not contaminated with dead animals or other toxic material.

A number of practical measures can be taken to improve water quality by clearing ash and debris (lls.nsw.gov.au).

Fire retardant

In the course of firefighting, aerially sprayed fire retardant may fall or drift onto grazing animals, pasture or water bodies.

NSW RFS advises that these chemicals have little effect on animals and that once landed on the ground, suppressants will degrade with exposure to the sun. The predominant ingredient in fire suppressants is similar to that found in many on-farm fertilisers.

If fire retardant enters your rainwater tank, the water may smell and taste unpleasant. NSW Health advises that the water is not suitable for drinking by people or animals, and the tank should be emptied and cleaned. Care should be taken when cleaning fire retardant residue in tanks and on roofs.

Further information

General hazards

With fencing damaged or destroyed, there are a number of hazards to pets and wandering livestock following bushfire. These may include unsafe building structures, exposed electrical wires and other damaged infrastructure, chemical stores, and previously fenced-off legacy dip sites, farm tips, roads and even backyard swimming pools. Treated timber ash poses a particularly serious risk to animals and people.

While personal safety is key for landholders in the clean-up phase, risks to animals also need to be managed. A number of practical measures can be taken to ensure animal safety, primarily by installing temporary exclusion fencing, and removal and disposal of hazardous material.

For more information on managing chemical hazards after bushfire visit Bushfire recovery - Managing chemical contaminants.

Further information

CCA treated timber

Ash from chemically treated timber, in particular copper-chrome-arsenate (CCA) treated timber, poses a high risk to people and animals on properties affected by fire. Ash from CCA treated timber is toxic and may contain more than 10% of its weight as heavy metal residue, including arsenic. Read more at the EPA factsheet on disposal of treated timber.

Managing ash derived from treated timbers including the need to exclude access by livestock is a priority.

Care must be taken in clearing ash derived from treated timber structures or stockpiles of such timber. For further information, seek advice from NSW EPA on 131 555.

Further information on safe handling of CCA timber (epa.nsw.gov.au).