Bushfires in Australia

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Looking towards the town Swifts Creek, Victoria, in December 2006 during the Victorian Alpine Fires
Intense bushfires can seriously impact the environment, such as here by the Big River, near Anglers Rest, East Gippsland, after the 2003 Victorian fires
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) - rescued koala from bushfire

Bushfires in Australia are frequent events during the hotter months of the year, due to Australia's mostly hot, dry climate. Each year, such fires impact extensive areas. On one hand, they can cause property damage and loss of human life. On the other hand, 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. For thousands of years, Indigenous Australians have used fire to foster grasslands for hunting and to clear tracks through dense bush.

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. Other major conflagrations include the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires, the 2003 Eastern Victorian alpine bushfires and the 2006 December Bushfires.

Victoria has seen the majority of the deadliest and largest bushfires in Australia, most notably the 2009 Black Saturday fires, where 173 people were killed, around 2,000 thousand homes and structured were destroyed, towns were gutted and some such as Marysville were completely destroyed.

Global warming is increasing the frequency and severity of bushfires[1] and will lead to increased days of extreme fire danger.[2]

Categories[edit]

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 mamas, 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,[3] arcing from overhead power lines, arson, accidental ignition from agricultural clearing, grinding and welding, campfires, cigarettes and dropped matches, machinery, and controlled burn escapes.

History[edit]

Epicormic shoots sprouting vigorously from epicormic buds beneath the thick bushfire damaged bark of a Eucalyptus tree – one of the strategies evolved by plants to survive bushfires
Bushfire damage to forests in East Gippsland, Victoria from the Bogong Fire Complex of 2003, two years after fires swept through the area, showing the recovery of trees and undercroft

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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

Some native animals are also adept at surviving bushfires.[7]

Warnings[edit]

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.[8] 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[9]

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.

Fire Danger Rating
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
Very high 25–50
High 12–25
Low to moderate 0–12

Regional management[edit]

The Australasian Fire Authorities Council (AFAC) is the peak body responsible for representing fire, emergency services and land management agencies in the Australasian region.

Queensland[edit]

The Rural Fire Service Queensland (RFSQ) is a volunteer-based firefighting agency and operates as part of the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service.[10]

New South Wales[edit]

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) is a volunteer-based firefighting agency and statutory body of the Government of New South Wales.[11]

South Australia[edit]

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).

Victoria[edit]

Major bushfires in Victoria in the 2000s
Main article: Bushfires in Victoria

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.[12]

Western Australia[edit]

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.[13] 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.

Seasonality[edit]

Bushfires in Australia can occur all year-round, though the severity and the "bushfire season" varies by region.[14] 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.[15] In northern Australia, bushfires usually occur during the dry season (April to September),[16] 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.

Climate change[edit]

Australia's climate has been trending toward more bushfire weather over the last 30 years.[17] The Climate Commission found that "The intensity and seasonality of large bushfires in south-east Australia appears to be changing, with climate change a possible contributing factor."[18] Climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of heatwaves in Southeast Australia and the probability of extreme fire risk. As the fire seasons become longer, there is less time for fuel reduction burns to control the bush fuel load.[2]

A 2006 report by the Bushfire CRC acknowledges the complexity of climate predictions pointing out "Much of [Australia's] vegetation has a complex evolutionary and dependent relationship with fire. Fire has been part of these environments for tens of thousands of years and much native flora and fauna remains dependent on it in various ways."[19] In 2007, a study by the CSIRO (the national government body for scientific research in Australia), found evidence that climate change will lead to increases in very high and extreme fire danger rating days and earlier onset of the fire season.[20] Other studies investigating the historical record identify significant changes in Australia's bushfire season as a result of human activity.[21]

Major bushfires in Australia[edit]

This section lists some of the major individual fires that have occurred. For an index to articles on individual fire seasons see List of Australian bushfire seasons

Bushfires have accounted for over 800 deaths in Australia since 1851 and the total accumulated cost is estimated at $1.6 billion.[22] In terms of monetary cost however, they rate behind the damage caused by drought, severe storms, hail, and cyclones,[23] perhaps because they most commonly occur outside highly populated urban areas.

Australia's worst ever recorded natural disaster was a Bushfire, the Victorian Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009, where 173 people lost their lives.

Some of the most severe Australian bushfires, in chronological order, have included:

Fire Location Area burned
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[24][25]
Red Tuesday bushfires Victoria 260,000 ha 1 February 1898 12 2,000 buildings[25]
1926 bushfires Victoria February – March 1926 60[26] 1000
Black Friday bushfires Victoria 2 million 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[25]
1951-2 Bushfires Victoria Summer 1951–52 at least 10[27]
Black Sunday Bushfires South Australia 2 January 1955 2
1961 Western Australian bushfires[28] Western Australia 1,800,000 ha January–March 1961 0 160 homes
1962 bushfires Victoria 14–16 January 1962 32 450 houses[26]
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[25]
Dandenong Ranges Bushfire Victoria 1,920 ha 19 February 1968 53 homes 10 other buildings
1969 bushfires Victoria 8 January 1969 23 230 houses[26]
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 December 1979 5 28 homes destroyed, 20 homes damaged[29]
1980 Waterfall bushfire Waterfall, NSW >1 million ha 3 November 1980 5 firefighters 14 homes[30]
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
Sydney Hills District and Central Coast Bushfires New South Wales 16 October 1991 2 14 houses[31]
1994 Eastern seaboard fires New South Wales ≈400,000 ha[32] 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[33]
Lithgow bushfire New South Wales 2 December 1997 2[33]
Perth and SW Region bushfires Western Australia 23,000 ha 2 December 1997 2 (21 injuries) 1 home lost
Linton bushfire Victoria 2 December 1998 5
Black Christmas New South Wales 300,000 ha 25 December 2001 – 2002 0 121 homes
2003 Canberra bushfires Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 160,000 ha[25] 18–22 January 2003 4 almost 500 homes[33]
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 10–12 January 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[34] 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.[35]
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[36]
2006 Grampians Bushfire Victoria 184,000 January 2006 2 A total of 57 houses, more than 350 other buildings were destroyed.
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.
2006–07 Eastern Victoria Great Divide bushfires Victoria 1,200,000 - 1,300,000 ha 1 December 2006 – 6 February 2007 1 51 homes[37][38]
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 1,500+ 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 4,000 ha 24 November 2011 0 34 homes destroyed including the historic Wallcliffe House[39]
Tasmanian Bushfires Tasmania 20,000+ ha 4 January 2013 1 At least 170 buildings
Warrumbungle Bushfire New South Wales 54,000 ha 18 January 2013 0 At least 53 homes, 118 sheds, agricultural machinery and livestock. Infrastructure destroyed at Siding Spring Observatory.[40]
2013 New South Wales bushfires New South Wales 100,000+ ha 16 October - November 2013 2 As of 19 October 2013 at least 248 buildings destroyed statewide (inc. 208 dwellings),[41] another 109 damaged in Springwood, Winmalee and Yellow Rock[42][43]

Major fires also occurred in the Hunter, Central Coast, Macarthur and Port Stephens regions causing significant damage.

2014 Parkerville bushfire Western Australia 386 ha 12 January 2014 1 56 Homes
2014 Grampians Bushfire Victoria 51800 ha 17 January 2014 1 Fire so intense it created a 12 km-wide convection column, generating its own weather and lightning strikes

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Milman, Oliver (24 October 2013). "Climate Council finds 'clear link' between bushfires and climate change". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 October 2013. "There is a “clear link” between climate change and bushfires, with the current New South Wales fires influenced by a rising frequency of hot, dry days, according to the climate body that had its funding withdrawn by the Coalition government. * * * The Climate Council’s interim findings, drawn from 60 peer-reviewed studies, show climate change is influencing the number of extremely warm days in Australia, as well as prolonged periods of low rainfall."
  2. ^ a b "Bushfires and Climate Change in Australia – The Facts". The Climate Council. Retrieved 26 October 2013. 
  3. ^ Dowdy Andrew, J. and Graham A. Mills. Atmospheric and Fuel Moisture Characteristics Associated with Lightning-Attributed Fires. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 52.11 (2012):2025-2037.
  4. ^ Flannery, T. (1994) "The future eaters" Reed Books Melbourne.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ White, M. E. 1986. The Greening of Gondwana. Reed Books, Frenchs Forest, Australia.
  7. ^ Effects of fire on plants and animals http://learnline.cdu.edu.au/units/sbi263/ecology/individual.html. Retrieved June 2012
  8. ^ "New Warning System Explained". Country Fire Authority. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  9. ^ Country Fire service of South Australia website http://www.cfs.sa.gov.au/site/home/cfs_glossary.jsp. Retrieved September 2011
  10. ^ "Rural Fire Service Queensland". 
  11. ^ "NSW Rural Fire Service". New South Wales Government. Retrieved 30 October 2010. 
  12. ^ "Country Fire Authority". Country Fire Authority. Retrieved 30 October 2010. 
  13. ^ "Welcome to DFES". Department of Fire and Emergency Services of Western Australia. Retrieved 30 October 2010. 
  14. ^ Luke RH, McArthur AG (1978). Bushfires in Australia. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. 
  15. ^ Sullivan, Rohan (11 February 2009). "Hot and dry Australia sees wildfire danger rise". The Association Press. Retrieved 13 February 2009. 
  16. ^ "Monsoonal Climate". Questacon. Retrieved 9 September 2006. 
  17. ^ "Bushfire weather in Southeast Australia: Media Brief", The Climate Institute, 26 September 2007. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  18. ^ "The Critical Decade: Climate science, risks and responses", The Climate Commission, 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
  19. ^ "CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS IMPACT ON THE MANAGEMENT OF BUSHFIRE". Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre. September 2006. p. 4. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  20. ^ CSIRO (2007). "Bushfire Weather in Southeast Australia Recent Trends and Projected Climate Change Impacts". Retrieved 13 November 2013. 
  21. ^ Jones, Roger. "Fire and climate change: don’t expect a smooth ride". The Conversation. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  22. ^ "Summary of Major Bush Fires in Australia Since 1851". Romsey Australia. Retrieved 29 October 2010. 
  23. ^ "EMA Disasters Database". Emergency management Australia. Retrieved 30 October 2010. 
  24. ^ Black Thursday. Retrieved 10 February 2009.
  25. ^ a b c d e ABS 1301.0 – Year Book Australia, 2004. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 24 March 2006. Retrieved 10 February 2009
  26. ^ a b c "Major bushfires in Victoria". Department of Sustainability and Environment. Retrieved 15 February 2009. [dead link]
  27. ^ "Chisholm, Alec H.". The Australian Encyclopaedia 2. Sydney: Halstead Press. 1963. p. 207. Bushfires. 
  28. ^ Matthews, H (2011) Karridale Bush Fires 1961, Karridale Progress Association Inc. ISBN 978-0-9871467-0-0
  29. ^ "Bushfire – Sydney and Region:1 December 1979". Attorney-General's Department (Australia). Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  30. ^ "1979 – 1980, Sydney and Region bushfire". Ministry for Police and Emergency Services. 18 September 2007. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  31. ^ http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/dsp_content.cfm?cat_id=1180
  32. ^ "Bushfires – Get the Facts". Attorney-General's Department. Retrieved 9 January 2013
  33. ^ a b c Norther Daily Leader, "Some past bushfires in Australia, p.3, 10 February 2009
  34. ^ "Bushfire threat eases in NSW". The Sydney Morning Herald. 4 January 2006. Retrieved 20 March 2009. 
  35. ^ "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. 
  36. ^ http://home.iprimus.com.au/foo7/firesum.html
  37. ^ "Eastern Victoria Great Divide Fires- Contained as at 7/2/2007". Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  38. ^ "Bushfire - Great Divide Complex". Australian Emergency Management Knowledge Hub. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 
  39. ^ "Rain could help damp down WA bushfires". ABC News. 25 November 2011. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  40. ^ Van de Wetering, Jodie (11 March 2013). "A timeline of the Coonabarabran bushfires". ABC (Western Plains). Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  41. ^ "Update – Damage assessment and fire investigation" (PDF) (Press release). New South Wales Rural Fire Service. 19 October 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  42. ^ "Watch and Act – Linksview Road Fire, Springwood (Blue Mountains) 19/10/13 11:40". NSW Rural Fire Service. 19 October 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  43. ^ Madden, James. "Firestorm destroys NSW communities as hundreds of homes could be lost". The Australian. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 

External links[edit]