Help for collections damaged by fire or flood

Many people affected by flood and fire in Victoria, NSW and Queensland may be looking for advice on how to salvage their family heirlooms and community collections in the coming weeks. While many things will be permanently damaged or lost entirely, it may be possible to salvage surviving family photographs, documents, books, jewellery, medals, pictures and other keepsakes.

Links to online resources about salvaging fire and flood-damaged material can be accessed via the front page of the AICCM website – go to:

If you know of someone who is looking for assistance in such matters, please direct them to this website or suggest that they call a State or National cultural organisation, and ask to speak to someone in the Conservation Department.

Private and consultant conservators can be located via the AICCM’s Directory of Members in Private Practice – go to and follow the link to “Find a Conservator”.

Health and safety must remain everyone’s top priority

  • Anyone attempting to salvage their possessions should wear protective clothing – especially gloves, masks and eye protection.
  • Never attempt to salvage belongings at the expense of your own safety.
  • Avoid breathing in or touching hazardous materials.
  • Risks in fire-damaged areas can include particulates, exposed asbestos, lead-containing building materials and chemical residues. Some objects themselves can pose health hazards when damaged – e.g. * lead-containing glass, lead paint, objects treated with pesticides etc. If water has been used to put out the fire, mould may also be an issue.
  • Risks in flood-affected areas include mould, bacteria, disease pathogens and exposure to waste matter and effluents carried with flood waters.

General handling advice for damaged items

  • Minimise handling of damaged material – handling surfaces can drive soot and other particulates further into fabrics and other porous materials and make them impossible to remove.
  • Avoid handling objects by damaged or weakened areas – e.g support ceramics from the base, rather than lifting by handles.
  • Avoid placing pressure on blistered or lifting surfaces – e.g. on paintings and photographs.
  • Place items in supportive boxes or plastic containers until you can obtain further advice.
  • Keep dirty, wet or fire-damaged items separate from cleaner / drier items to prevent contamination.
  • Place wet items in areas with good air circulation to aid drying and to help prevent mould growth.

A useful booklet

Bushfires… Protect Your Precious Possessions [] is a free booklet produced by conservators at The University of Melbourne with funding from Emergency Management Australia.

The AICCM is the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials, the professional organisation for conservators in Australia.

The above message is based on information published by the AICCM on 10 February 2009, and is endorsed by the Council of Australasian Archives and Records Authorities. This text has been modified from similar text at the Collections Council of Australia [] website.