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Smoke and toxic air

Chemical fires, smoke or spills can release chemicals and smoke into the air.

Smoke and toxic air can cause serious harm if you breathe it in.

Where it occurs

Smoke, polluted and toxic air can happen in residential areas from a:

  • fire
  • explosion
  • chemical spill
  • road or train accident.

A hazardous chemical can be a solid, liquid or gas.

You might not be able to see or smell anything because many gases are colourless and odourless.

The effects

A chemical or smoke cloud can move downwind as a cloud that spreads and mixes with clean air on its way.

The concentration of smoke and chemicals can be very high at first and may injure you if you breathe them in.

What to look out for

The first sign may be from a strong chemical odour, or you may see a thick smoke cloud in your area.

If you live close to large industries, you will have received information on sirens.

Victoria Police and other emergency services may try and contact affected people.

This is by phone message, text message and messaging in the media.

Protecting yourself

The best way to protect yourself and others is to go indoors immediately.


Before the plume arrives, you must shelter-in-place immediately.

This shelter-in-place order protects you from the high concentration of a chemical outside.

Follow the emergency officials' orders.

How to shelter-in-place

Shelter-in-place means go inside your home or the nearest accessible building immediately.

Make sure you:

  • bring pets indoors if you can find them quickly
  • close all windows and doors
  • turn off heating, air-conditioning, fans and ventilation systems
  • shut or cover air vents, including fireplace or woodstove dampers
  • shut yourself in a room with few exterior windows or other openings and close blinds or curtains
  • seal any gaps around windows or spaces under doors with towels, blankets, duct tape or plastic
  • listen to your local or commercial radio station, or watch TV stations for emergency broadcasting
  • listen for updated information and extra measures to protect yourself
  • Fire Services work with local government and other emergency services to keep you up to date
  • you can also visit Country Fire Authority (CFA) Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) or Vic Emergency websites

Only call '000' (triple zero) if there's a life-threatening situation.

Keep inside air clean

All buildings have small gaps and cracks, and some have air vents and chimneys. Try to keep the air inside the building fresh. You can breathe the fresh air inside while the air outdoors moves away and mixes with clean air. This will minimise exposure to toxic vapours and smoke.

Soon, the outside air will be cleaner than the air inside the shelter. This will be sometime after the worst of the hazardous plume has passed. 

Emergency responders will let you know when this happens. They will then direct you to ventilate the shelter and leave the area.

You must leave the shelter when you're told to. This is to avoid continued exposure.

Hazardous vapours that are in the building will eventually go.

External windows won't close

If your windows won't close:

  • Go to an internal room and seal the room as well as possible. Or, shelter in a room on the opposite side to the wind direction.
  • Use towels, blankets or duct tape to block any gaps under doors or around windows and wall vents.

The smell of chemical odours

You can smell most chemicals well before the levels are high enough to cause harm.

If you are inside and can smell the chemical before windows and doors are closed, it's generally still safer to shelter-in-place.

My children are at school

Do not collect your children from school. The schools will protect your children by evacuating or sheltering them in place.

Need help?

Contact us and we will come back to you.

Or call our Emergency Management team on 9298 8000.

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