Bush fires and trauma
For Family & Friends, Female Survivors, Male Survivors, Teachers, Workers, Young People
This page has resources for individuals affected by bush fires, for professionals working with people affected by bush fire and for those who want to donate or volunteer. There are also resources for helping animals and wildlife affected by bush fires.
“Disasters provide a powerful opportunity for communities to come together and support each other, a chance for human resilience to shine through even in the depths of tragedy.” Phoenix Australia
The new year has brought no respite from the bush fires. The scale and impact is unprecedented. Our thoughts are with the communities affected, including the CASAs in the fire danger zones.
Trauma and bush fire
Traumatic situations often trigger past traumas as they evoke similar feelings. They’re usually tied to the senses. Seeing, touching, feeling, smelling or tasting something can bring back strong memories. While triggers themselves are usually harmless, they make a person feel as if they are in danger. Therefore being exposed to something frightening like a bush fire, can trigger memories of a past trauma such as a sexual assault.
Overcoming traumatic stress is often about taking action. Positive action can help you overcome feelings of fear, helplessness, and hopelessness—and even small actions can make a big difference.
More on this: Traumatic stress
If you live, work or travel in a high risk area, it is important to pay close attention to information provided by Vic Emergency and monitor changes to the situation.
- Increased wind speed, change in wind direction, smoke or poor visibility can indicate the situation is changing.
- Smoke can affect people's health, so please note:
- People with pre-existing health problems, heart or lung conditions (including asthma), children, pregnant women, and older people are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke.
- People with existing heart or lung conditions (including asthma) should follow the treatment plan advised by the doctor.
- Anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing should call Triple Zero (000).
- If you cannot smell smoke, you are not likely to be exposed to smoke, and it will therefore not affect you.
Use multiple sources to stay informed:
- VicEmergency Hotline - freecall 1800 226 226
- VicEmergency app
- Facebook https://www.facebook.com/vicemergency
- Twitter (#vicfires) https://twitter.com/vicemergency
- Tune in to ABC Local Radio, commercial and designated community radio stations, or Sky News TV.
- Check air quality here
The following services can help you, or someone you know, access information during an emergency.
To access this information in other languages, call the Translating and Interpreting Service on 131 450 (freecall) and ask them to call the VicEmergency Hotline.
If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech/communication impairment, contact National Relay Service on 1800 555 677 and ask them to call the VicEmergency Hotline.
Accessible bush fire resources for people with disabilities see https://www.facebook.com/womenwithdisabilitiesvictoria/
For people affected by bush fires
Bush fires are characterised by intense fear for the safety of oneself and one’s loved ones, pets and belongings. They are also characterised by huge losses – of loved ones, homes, irreplaceable personal effects and, in many cases, livelihoods.
A wide range of emotional reactions are normal
Thankfully, most people recover with the help of family and friends, but for some, the experience can result in symptoms of anxiety and depression that may last for weeks, months, or longer.
You are not alone. Please reach out if you are struggling.
If you need time away from work to help yourself or family, or to volunteer or need other support, you may have workplace entitlements. Please talk to your manager, HR representative or union to find out more. Many large organisations have employee assistance programs which staff can access.
Need to talk to someone?
Griefline 1300 845 745
Midday to 3am AEST, 7 days a week
Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1800 806 292
Beyond blue 1300 22 4636
Life line 13 11 14
Kids helpline 1800 55 1800
Gippsland region indigenous health services
- Access Australian Government disaster recovery payments call 1802266 or visit: https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/help-emergency/bushfires
- For NSW Government financial assistance, please see here: https://www.emergency.nsw.gov.au/Pages/for-the-community/disaster-assistance/disaster-assistance-for-individuals.aspx
- For Victorian Government financial assistance, please see here: http://emergency.vic.gov.au/relief-and-recovery/924
- For SA Government financial assistance, please see here: https://dhs.sa.gov.au/services/disaster-recovery/cudleecreek
- The long term trauma for bush fire survivors (Video)
- Bushfires and your health
- Recovering from a bush fire
- Strength from perpetual grief: how Aboriginal people experience the bushfire crisis
- Helping children who have been affected by bush fires - Information for parents and caregivers (PDF)
- Helping children after a disaster or traumatic event
- Supporting your mates (Podcast)
- Helping Animals Affected By Bush fires
This information is to assist professionals working with bush fire survivors.
The evidence-based, best-practice during times of crisis is to work towards building trust through empathic, honest communication and person-centred approaches.
The way to frame questions about the impact of the fire:
‘When it comes to your mental health and well-being, what’s the ideal scenario?’
‘What has happened to you?’
‘How has what’s happened to you impacted upon your life today?’
Things to remember:
- facilitate choice
- remain flexible through trusting engagement
- portray genuine ‘care’
- embrace compassionate support
- foster recovery with dignity
- offer practical assistance
- maintain the working relationship through taking the least restrictive pathway
- be culturally sensitive as people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds may express trauma experience and injury in ways that are in keeping with their culture.
Professionals who have been personally impacted by the bush fires may have workplace entitlements. Please talk to your manager, HR representative or union to find out more about these.
- Helping Children after a Bush fire – Teacher Booklet
- Information for GPs impacted by bush fires
- ANU Bush fire resources
- 10 Years Beyond Bush fires study (University Melbourne)
- Beyond Bush fires (University Melbourne)
- Life after bush fire: Post-traumatic stress, coping and post-traumatic growth
- Trauma, grief and loss resources
- The long term trauma for bush fire survivors (Video)
Where to donate or volunteer
- Victorian bush fire appeal
- Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery
- Victorian Trades Hall Council is collating a list of people who are able to help in a hands-on way. If you think that your skill set may be of use, please go to their website and fill out the form. You will be contacted when a need has been identified.
- Bush fire Emergency Wildlife Fund
- Bush fire Factsheet for Wildlife
- The bush fire crisis: how to help wildlife
- Rescue craft for affected wildlife
- How you can help wildlife in the bush fires
- Bush fire Wildlife Water Station