Canberra bushfire safety and health advice for smoke

The beginning of 2020 has seen devastating bushfires in several parts of Australia, with lives tragically lost, property destroyed, wildlife desolated and millions of hectares of bush burned. While Canberra has thus far been spared from the worst of the fires, the fire season will continue for many months and people in Canberra are urged to remain vigilant and prepared.

Canberra bushfire safety and health advice for smokey conditions

Canberra is a city designed and built in a bush and grass landscape. This means bushfires are an inevitable fact of life in the ACT.

In the event of a bushfire, being well prepared will provide the best chance of remaining safe and will help ensure the protection of your family and property. This means preparing your bushfire survival plan.

Advice from the ACT Emergency Services is to have a plan, make decisions and take action.

As part of Canberra’s Social Recovery Network, Communities@Work plays an important role in times of disaster or major emergency, providing vital community services to assist individuals, families and communities.

The ACT Community Services website provides more information and resources, such as on evacuations.

Please visit the ESA government website for the latest updates and information. 

Health advice for conditions of smoke

The air quality in Canberra is “hazardous extreme” owing to the smoke from the nearby bushfires. There is serious likelihood of effects for sensitive groups and symptoms among general population. Symptoms may include:

  • Itchy or burning eyes
  • Throat irritation
  • Runny nose
  • Shortness of breath and coughing

Conditions may also be intensified by the hot temperatures. Please visit ACT Health for important information. 

Key advice includes:

1. Remain indoors with windows & doors closed, and avoid any physical activity outside. If possible, relocate to a friend or relative’s house outside the affected area.

2. Don’t use evaporative coolers, as they will bring smoke inside.

3. Visit a local air-conditioned building such as a library, community centre or shopping centre.

4. Anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness or difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.

5. Anyone with a heart or lung condition should take their medication as prescribed by their doctor, and take extra care in avoiding any outdoor activity. People with asthma should follow their asthma action plan.

6. If it is safe to do so, check on elderly neighbours or other people who you think might need help.

7. Stay hydrated, especially if you’re sensitive to smoke and air pollution, to prevent heat-related illness.

8. In the event of a medical emergency call triple-zero (000).

9. People who are particularly vulnerable to smoke and air pollution, and must take extra precautions include:

  • people with heart or lung conditions (including asthma)
  • children aged less than 14 years
  • pregnant women, and
  • people over 65 years of age

Stay updated


If you are in a life threatening emergency, at any time, day or night, you should dial Triple Zero (000) for Police, Fire or Ambulance.


Support and resources

Dickson College Emergency Relief Centre

For people travelling from the South Coast and needing a break, the ACT Government has set up a Relief Centre at Dickson College (Phillip Avenue, Dickson) to provide assistance and support.

The centre will provide essential emergency support to people travelling through Canberra from the South Coast, or other bushfire affected areas, on their way home.

People are welcome to stop at the Centre for a cuppa or cold water. Friendly faces from Communities at Work and other community groups are on site to greet people, as are counsellors.

Our Community Pantries are available for you

Our community pantries help people experiencing hardship with free and discounted food, assistance paying for medical scripts* (*capped) and other services, including information and referrals to other support services in Canberra.

If you need support or if you’re supporting family and friends who have evacuated due to the fires, you are welcome to access our community pantries in the Tuggeranong and Gungahlin Community Centres.

Services are seeing increased demand as a result of the current situation.

  • Tuggeranong Community Centre – 245 Cowlishaw Street, Greenway
  • Gungahlin Community Centre – 47 Ernest Cavanagh Street, Gungahlin

Information Resources

  • Tips from the Red Cross on things you can do to make it easier to cope. Read more
  • Tips from the Red Crosson how to help family and friends. Read more
  • Tips from the Red Cross on how to help pets if you need to evacuate. Read more.
  • If your children need support they (or you) can contact the Kids Helpline.

Crisis Support

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to talk to someone urgently :

Want to support the bushfire relief effort?

Communities@Work has been supporting the bushfire relief effort by partnering with several other community groups to both collect donations for those affected by the fires and to support evacuees visiting Canberra’s relief centre at Dickson College. Thankfully, we have been working with the ACT Government and other community agencies for the past year to prepare for the need for evacuation or a relief centre, so this service is now able to effectively support people in need.

If you would like to donate to the bushfire appeal, here are some options:

NSW Rural Fire Service

NSW wildlife victims (WIRES)

Red Cross

Canberrans wanting to donate goods are asked to go through GIVIT. GIVIT is a national not-for-profit organisation connecting those who have with those who need. GIVIT runs specific disaster relief projects and this is the best way to ensure community support is targeted appropriately.

Support Communities@Work

If you would like to support Communities@Work, we are accepting donations for our  community pantries which are seeing increased demand due to the conditions of smoke in Canberra and the nearby bushfires. Donations will be accepted at our Tuggeranong and Gungahlin community centres.

Items we need:

  • Rice or noodles
  • Pasta & pasta sauce
  • Soup
  • Cereal
  • Long-life milk
  • Coffee/tea/hot chocolate
  • Cordial and Juice
  • Tinned fruit
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Tinned ham/turkey/salmon/tuna
  • Peanuts/mixed nuts
  • Savoury crackers
  • Sweet biscuits
  • Chocolate and lollies
  • Chips or nibbles

Come in and chat to us about what you need. We are here to help.

Donate Now to Support Communities@Work.

Get in touch.

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