Publication Details

Camilleri, P., Healy, C., Macdonald, E. M., Nicholls, S., Sykes, J., Winkworth, G. & Woodward, M. (2010). Recovery from bushfires: The experience of the 2003 Canberra bushfires three years after. Journal of Emergency Primary Health Care, 8 (1), 990383-1-990383-15.


Background and Aim The Canberra Bushfires were one of the largest single day natural disasters in Australian history. A group of researchers from across disciplines and sectors (Universities and Government) undertook a major project to study the experiences of people directly affected by the fires in the recovery process. The research team was interested in the longer term recovery experience (approximately three years following the event). The paper briefly outlines the research process, provides an overview of the findings on people's bushfire experiences, health and wellbeing, and views on what helped in individual and community recovery. Methods Sixteen hundred households that had been registered with the Bushfire Recovery Centre were surveyed. Five hundred questionnaires were returned and forty people interviewed. The survey consisted of 126 items. The survey took between 40 to 70 minutes to complete and the response rate was 32%. Results Many respondents experienced substantial property losses as a result of this bushfire (74% reported structural loss or damage to dwellings), and 78% of people recalled that they felt a threat of death or injury to themselves or significant others during the fires. The majority of respondents were positive about their health and wellbeing. A considerable number of individuals reported ongoing health and psychosocial problems related to the bushfires. Respondents commented on what helped in the recovery process. Conclusion With adequate support many people may not experience lasting negative outcomes for their health, mental health or wellbeing in the years following a bushfire disaster. However, continuing adverse effects on health and wellbeing are expected in the context of a high degree of loss, threat to life, and life stressors. Long term support is required for those experiencing ongoing health and psychosocial problems related to the bushfire. Given the diversity of experiences post-disaster a range of recovery responses are required over a period of years to support community and individual needs.