Bushfires in Australia
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Bushfires in Australia are frequently occurring events during the hotter months of the year due to Australia's mostly hot, dry climate. Large areas of land are ravaged every year by bushfires, which also cause property damage and loss of life.
Certain native flora in Australia have evolved to rely on bushfires as a means of reproduction and fire events are an interwoven and an essential part of the ecology of the continent. In some eucalypt and banksia species, for example, fire causes seed pods to open, which allows them to germinate. Fire also encourages the growth of new grassland plants. Other species have adapted to recover quickly from fire.
For many thousands of years, Indigenous Australians people have used fire for a variety of purposes. These included the encouragement of grasslands for hunting purposes and the clearing of tracks through dense vegetation.
Major firestorms that result in severe loss of life are often named based on the day on which they occur, such as Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday. Some of the most intense, extensive and deadly bushfires commonly occur during droughts and heat waves, such as the 2009 Southern Australia heat wave, which precipitated the conditions during the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in which 173 people lost their lives.
Bushfires in Australia, are generally defined as any uncontrolled, non-structural fire burning in a grass, scrub, bush, or forested area. Australia, being a geographically and meteorogically diverse continent, experiences many types of bushfires. Fires can be divided into two main categories, depending on topography of the area.
- Hilly/mountainous fires - Burn in hilly, mountainous or alpine areas which are usually densely forested. The land is less accessible and not conducive to agriculture, thus many of these densely forested areas have been saved from deforestation and are protected by national, state and other parks. The steep terrain increases the speed and intensity of a firestorm. Where settlements are located in hilly or mountainous areas, bushfires can pose a threat to both life and property.
- Flat/grassland fires - Burn along flat plains or areas of small undulation, predominantly covered in grasses or scrubland. These fires can move quickly, fanned by high winds in flat topography, they quickly consume the small amounts of fuel/vegetation available. These fires pose less of a threat to settlements as they rarely reach the same intensity seen in major firestorms as the land is flat, the fires are easier to map and predict and the terrain is more accessible for firefighting personnel. Many regions of predominantly flat terrain in Australia have been almost completely deforested for agriculture, reducing the fuel loads in these areas.
Common causes of bushfires include lightning, arcing from overhead power lines, arson, accidental ignition from agricultural clearing, grinding and welding, campfires, cigarettes and dropped matches, machinery, and controlled burn escapes.
The natural fire regime in Australia was altered by the arrival of humans. Fires became more frequent, and fire-loving species—notably eucalypts—greatly expanded their range. It is assumed that a good deal of this change came about as the result of deliberate action by early humans, setting fires to clear undergrowth or drive game.
Plants have evolved a variety of strategies to survive (or even require) bushfires, (possessing epicormic shoots or lignotubers that sprout after a fire, or developing fire-resistant or fire-triggered seeds) or even encourage fire (eucalypts contain flammable oils in the leaves) as a way to eliminate competition from less fire-tolerant species.
Some native animals are also adept at surviving bushfires.
In 2009, a standardised Fire Danger Rating (FDR) was adopted by all Australian states. During the fire season the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) provides fire weather forecasts and by considering the predicted weather including temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and dryness of vegetation, fire agencies determine the appropriate Fire Danger Rating. In 2010, following a national review of the bush fire danger ratings, new trigger points for each rating were introduced for grassland areas in most jurisdictions. See for example the following glossary 
Fire Danger Ratings are a feature of weather forecasts and alert the community to the actions they should take in preparation of the day. Ratings are broadcast via newspapers, radio, TV, and the internet.
|Category||Fire Danger Index|
|Catastrophic / Code Red||Forest 100+ Grass 150+|
|Extreme||Forest 75–100 Grass 100–150|
|Severe||Forest 50–75 Grass 50–100|
|Low to moderate||0–12|
The Australasian Fire Authorities Council (AFAC) is the peak body responsible for representing fire, emergency services and land management agencies in the Australasian region.
New South Wales
The Country Fire Service is a volunteer based fire service in the state of South Australia. The CFS operates as a part of the South Australian Fire and Emergency Services Commission (SAFECOM).
In Victoria, the Country Fire Authority (CFA) provides firefighting and other emergency services to country areas and regional townships within the state, as well as large portions of the outer suburban areas and growth corridors of Melbourne not covered by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services of Western Australia (DFES) and the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) have joint responsibility for bushfire management in Western Australia. DFES is an umbrella organisation supporting the Bush Fire Service, Emergency Services Cadets, Fire and Rescue Service, State Emergency Service, Volunteer Emergency Service, Volunteer Fire Service, Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service, and the Volunteer Marine Rescue Services.
Bushfires in Australia can occur all year-round, though the severity and the "bushfire season" varies by region. These seasons are commonly grouped into years such as "2006-07 Australian bushfire season" and typically run from June one year until May the next year.
In southeast Australia, bushfires tend to be most common and most severe during summer and autumn (December–March), in drought years, and particularly severe in El Niño years. Southeast Australia is fire-prone, and warm and dry conditions intensify the probability of fire. In northern Australia, bushfires usually occur during the dry season (April to September), and fire severity tends to be more associated with seasonal weather patterns. In the southwest, similarly, bushfires occur in the summer dry season and severity is usually related to seasonal growth. Fire frequency in the north is difficult to assess, as the vast majority of fires are caused by human activity, however lightning strikes are as common a cause as human-ignited fires and arson.
Major bushfires in Australia
Bushfires have accounted for over 800 deaths in Australia since 1851 and the total accumulated cost is estimated at $1.6 billion. In terms of monetary cost however, they rate behind the damage caused by drought, severe storms, hail, and cyclones, perhaps because they most commonly occur outside highly populated urban areas.
Some of the most severe Australian bushfires, in chronological order, have included:
1 ha ≈ 2.5 acres
|Date||Human Deaths||Properties damaged|
|Black Thursday bushfires||Victoria, Australia||≈ 5 million hectares (ha)||6 February 1851||about 12||1 million sheep; thousands of cattle|
|Red Tuesday bushfires||Victoria||260,000 ha||1 February 1898||12||2,000 buildings|
|1926 bushfires||Victoria||February – March 1926||60||1000|
|Black Friday bushfires||Victoria||2,000,000 ha||December 1938 – January 1939, peaking 13 January 1939||71||3,700|
|1944 Bushfires||Victoria||1 million ha estimated||14 January – 14 February 1944||15–20||more than 500 houses|
|1951-2 Bushfires||Victoria||Summer 1951–52||at least 10|
|Black Sunday Bushfires||South Australia||2 January 1955||2|
|1961 Western Australian bushfires||Western Australia||1,800,000 ha||January–March 1961||0||160 homes|
|1962 bushfires||Victoria||14–16 January 1962||32||450 houses|
|Southern Highlands bushfires||New South Wales||5–14 March 1965||3||59 homes|
|Tasmanian "Black Tuesday" bushfires||Tasmania||Approximately 264,000 ha||7 February 1967||62||1,293 homes|
|Dandenong Ranges Bushfire||Victoria||1,920 ha||19 February 1968||53 homes 10 other buildings|
|1969 bushfires||Victoria||8 January 1969||23||230 houses|
|Western Districts Bushfires||Victoria||103,000 ha||12 February 1977||4||116 houses, 340 Buildings|
|1978 Western Australian Bushfires||Western Australia||114,000 ha||4 April 1978||2||6 buildings (drop in wind in early evening is said to have saved the towns of Donnybrook, Boyup Brook, Manjimup, and Bridgetown.)|
|1979 Sydney bushfires||Sydney, and Region NSW||1979||5||28 homes destroyed, 20 homes damaged|
|1980 Waterfall bushfire||Waterfall, NSW||>1,000,000 ha||3 November 1980||5 firefighters||14 homes|
|Ash Wednesday bushfires||South Australia and Victoria||418,000 ha||16 February 1983||75||about 2,400 houses|
|Central Victoria Bushfires||Victoria||50,800 ha||14 January 1985||3||180+ houses|
|1994 Eastern seaboard fires||New South Wales||≈400,000 ha||27 December 1993 – 16 January 1994||4||225 homes|
|Wooroloo Bushfire||Western Australia||10,500 ha||8 January 1997||0||16 homes|
|Dandenongs bushfire||Victoria||400||21 January 1997||3||41 homes|
|Lithgow bushfire||New South Wales||2 December 1997||2|
|Perth and SW Region bushfires||Western Australia||23,000 ha||2 December 1997||2 (21 injuries)||1 home lost|
|Black Christmas (bushfires)||New South Wales||300,000 ha||2001–02||0||121 homes|
|2003 Canberra bushfires||Canberra, Australian Capital Territory||160,000 ha||2003||4||almost 500 homes|
|2003 Eastern Victorian alpine bushfires||Victoria||over 1.3 million ha||8 January – 8 March 2003||3||41 homes|
|Tenterden||Western Australia||December 2003||2||(2,110,000 ha of forest burnt during the 2002-2003 bushfire season in the S/W of WA)|
|Eyre Peninsula bushfire||South Australia||145,000 ha||2005||9||93 homes|
|2006 Central Coast bushfire||Central Coast, New South Wales||New Years Day, 2006|
|Jail Break Inn Fire||Junee, New South Wales||30,000 ha||New Years Day 2006||0||Livestock losses estimated to be over 20,000. Seven homes, seven headers and four shearing sheds destroyed. 1,500 kilometres (930 mi) of fencing damaged.|
|2005 Victorian bushfires||Victoria||160,000 ha||December 2005 – January 2006||4||57 houses, 359 farm buildings, 65,000 stock losses, fires occurred in the Stawell, Moondarra, Anakie, Yea, and Kinglake regions|
|Grampians Bushfire||Victoria||184,000||January 2006||2|
|Pulletop bushfire||Wagga Wagga, New South Wales||9,000||6 February 2006||0||2,500 sheep and 6 cattle killed, 3 vehicles and 2 hay sheds destroyed as well as 50 km of fencing.|
|The Great Divides Fire||Victoria||1,048,000 ha||1 Dec 2006 - March 2007||1||51 homes|
|2006-07 Australian bushfire season||September 2006 – January 2007|
|Dwellingup bushfire||Western Australia||12,000 ha||4 February 2007||0||16|
|Kangaroo Island Bushfires||South Australia||95,000 ha||6–14 December 2007||1|
|Boorabbin National Park||Western Australia||40,000 ha||30 December 2007||3||Powerlines and Great Eastern Highway, forced to close for 2 weeks|
|Black Saturday bushfires||Victoria||450,000+ ha||7 February 2009 – 14 March 2009||173||2,029+ houses, 2,000 other structures|
|Toodyay Bushfire||Western Australia||3,000+ ha||29 December 2009||0||38|
|Lake Clifton Bushfire||Western Australia||2,000+ ha||11 January 2011||0||10 homes destroyed|
|Roleystone Kelmscott Bushfire||Western Australia||1500+ ha||6–8 February 2011||0||72 homes destroyed, 32 damaged, Buckingham Bridge on Brookton Highway collapsed and closed for 3 weeks whilst a temporary bridge was constructed and opened a month after the fires|
|Margaret River Bushfire||Western Australia||4000 ha||24 November 2011||0||31 homes destroyed including the historic Wallcliffe House|
|Tasmanian Bushfires||Tasmania||20,000+ ha||4 January 2013||1||At least 170 buildings|
- Early 2009 southeastern Australia heat wave, which generated extreme fire conditions
- McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index
- "Bushfire in Australia". Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). 14 February 2008(Updated 26 October 2012). Retrieved 9 January 2012
- Flannery, T. (1994) "The future eaters" Reed Books Melbourne.
- Wilson, B., S. Boulter, et al. (2000). Queensland's resources. Native Vegetation Management in Queensland. S. L. Boulter, B. A. Wilson, J. Westrupet eds. Brisbane, Department of Natural Resources.
- White, M. E. 1986. The Greening of Gondwana. Reed Books, Frenchs Forest, Australia.
- Effects of fire on plants and animals http://learnline.cdu.edu.au/units/sbi263/ecology/individual.html Retrieved June 2012
- "New Warning System Explained". Country Fire Authority. Retrieved 1 February 2010.
- Country Fire service of South Australia website http://www.cfs.sa.gov.au/site/home/cfs_glossary.jsp Retrieved September 2011
- "NSW Rural Fire Service". New South Wales Government. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
- "Country Fire Authority". Country Fire Authority. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
- "Welcome to DFES". Department of Fire and Emergency Services of Western Australia. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
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- "Monsoonal Climate". Questacon. Retrieved 9 September 2006.
- "Summary of Major Bush Fires in Australia Since 1851". Romsey Australia. Retrieved 29 October 2010.
- "EMA Disasters Database". Emergency management Australia. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
- Black Thursday. Retrieved 10 February 2009.
- ABS 1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2004. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 24 March 2006. Retrieved 10 February 2009
- "Major bushfires in Victoria". Department of Sustainability and Environment. Retrieved 15 February 2009.[dead link]
- "Chisholm, Alec H.". The Australian Encyclopaedia 2. Sydney: Halstead Press. 1963. p. 207. Bushfires.
- Matthews, H (2011) Karridale Bush Fires 1961, Karridale Progress Association Inc. ISBN 978-0-9871467-0-0
- "Bushfire - Sydney and Region:1 December 1979". Attorney-General's Department (Australia). Retrieved 9 January 2013.
- "1979 - 1980, Sydney and Region bushfire". Ministry for Police and Emergency Services. 18 September 2007. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
- "Bushfires - Get the Facts". Attorney-General's Department (Australia), Retrieved 9 January 2013
- Norther Daily Leader, "Some past bushfires in Australia, p.3, 10 February 2009
- "Bushfire threat eases in NSW". The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). 4 January 2006. Retrieved 20 March 2009.
- "Generous support coming in for farmers affected by bushfires". NSW Department of Primary Industries. New South Wales Government. 6 January 2006. Retrieved 20 March 2009.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Bushfires in Australia|
- "Bushfires overview". CSIRO.
- "Australian fire risk and season maps". Romsey Australia.
- "Real-time Australian Bushfire Map". The Unorthodox Engineers.