Altered fire regimes are a driver of biodiversity decline. To plan effective management, we need to know how species are influenced by fire and to develop theory describing fire responses. Animal responses to fire are usually measured using methods that rely on animal activity, but animal activity may vary with time since fire, potentially biasing results. Using a novel approach for detecting bias in the pit-fall trap method, we found that leaf-litter dependent reptiles were more active up to 6 weeks after fire, giving a misleading impression of abundance. This effect was not discovered when modelling detectability with zero-inflated binomial models. Two species without detection bias showed early-successional responses to time since fire, consistent with a habitat-accommodation succession model. However, a habitat specialist did not have the predicted low abundance after fire due to increased post-fire movement and non-linear recovery of a key habitat component. Interactions between fire and other processes therefore must be better understood to predict reptile responses to changing fire-regimes. We conclude that there is substantial bias when trapping reptiles after fire, with species that are otherwise hard to detect appearing to be abundant. Studies that use a survey method based on animal activity such as bird calls or animal movements, likely face a similar risk of bias when comparing recently-disturbed with control sites.