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(Redirected from Bushfires in Australia)
Bushfires Southeastern Australia
Smoke from bushfires can cover a large area. This is eastern Victoria.
Melb bush fire smoke
The city of Melbourne covered in smoke during the 2006-2007 bushfire season.
Trappe fg02
An Australian Bustard searching for food behind a bushfire.
Ladysmith-RFS
Ladysmith NSW RFS fire fighting tanker

Bushfires in Australia are frequent events during the warmer 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 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. Other major conflagrations include the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires, the 2003 Eastern Victorian alpine bushfires and the 2006 December Bushfires.

Global warming is increasing the frequency and severity of bushfires.

Categories

The term "bushfire" builds on the concept of "the bush", referring to sparsely-inhabited regions. Bushfires in Australia are generally defined as uncontrolled, non-structural fires burning in a grass, scrub, bush, or forested area. Australia, being a geographically and meteorogically diverse continent, experiences many types of bushfires. There are two main categories, depending on local topography.

  • 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, and 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 which would otherwise facilitate fires in these areas.

Common causes of bushfires include lightning, arcing from overhead power lines, arson, accidental ignition in the course of agricultural clearing, grinding and welding activities, campfires, cigarettes and dropped matches, sparks from machinery, and controlled burn escapes.

Fire activity swifts creek 2007 edit
Looking towards Dargo, Victoria from Swifts Creek, 11 January 2006

History

Epicormic Shoots from an Epicormic Bud on Eucalyptus following Bushfire 2, near Anglers Rest, Vic, Aust, jjron 27.3.2005
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
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. 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.

Warnings

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.

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

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

The Rural Fire Service (RFS) is a volunteer-based firefighting agency and operates as part of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services.

New South Wales

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

South Australia

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

Major Victorian bushfires in the 2000s
Major bushfires in Victoria in the 2000s

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.

Western Australia

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services of Western Australia (DFES) and the Department of Parks and Wildlife (P&W) have joint responsibility for bushfire management in Western Australia. DFES is an umbrella organisation supporting the Bush Fire Brigade volunteers, 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.

Guidelines for survival

Local authorities provide education and information for residents in bushfire-prone regions regarding the location of current fires, preservation of life and property and when to escape by car.

Seasonality

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.

Climate change

Burnt property after a bushfire
Boy looks at the burnt trees on his property after the South Australian bushfires in 2019

Australia's climate has been trending toward more bushfire weather over the last 30 years. 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."

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." 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. Other studies investigating the historical record identify significant changes in Australia's bushfire season as a result of human activity.

Major bushfires in Australia

Bushfires have accounted for over 800 deaths in Australia since 1851 and, in 2012, the total accumulated cost was 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. However, the severe fires of the summer of 2019–2020 affected densely populated areas including holiday destinations leading NSW Rural Fire Services Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, to claim it was "absolutely" the worst bushfire season on record.

Some of the most severe Australian bushfires (single fires and fire seasons), in chronological order, have included: note 2019/2020 bushfires have a combined total of hectares burned for the States names not single State totals.

Name or description State(s) /
territories
Area burned
(approx.)
Date Fatalities Properties damaged Notes
ha acres
Black Thursday bushfires Victoria 5,000,000 12,000,000 6 February 1851 about 12 1 million sheep; thousands of cattle
Red Tuesday bushfires Victoria 260,000 640,000 1 February 1898 12 2,000 buildings
1926 bushfires Victoria February–March 1926 60 1,000
Black Friday bushfires Victoria 2,000,000 4,900,000 December 1938 – January 1939 71 3,700
1944 bushfires Victoria 1,000,000 2,500,000 14 January – 14 February 1944 15–20 more than 500 houses
Woodford/Springwood Bushfire 1944, Blue Mountains New South Wales 18 November 1944 Nil 27 homes
1951–52 bushfires Victoria 4,000,000 9,900,000 November 1951 – January 1952 11
Black Sunday bushfires South Australia 39,000–160,000 96,000–395,000 2 January 1955 2 40 dwellings including the Governor's summer residence at Marble Hill
Grose Valley bushfire, Blue Mountains 1957 New South Wales 30 November 1957 4 4 boys were killed on a bush walk out to Perrys look down 5 others survived, the leader of the group got help at Blackheath
1957 Leura bushfire, Blue Mountains New South Wales 2 December 1957 Nil 170 homes in parts of Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth falls One building that was destroyed was the Chateau Napier.
1961 Western Australian bushfires Western Australia 1,800,000 4,400,000 January–March 1961 Nil 160 homes
1962 bushfires Victoria 14–16 January 1962 32 450 houses
1965 Gippsland bushfires Victoria 315,000 780,000 21 Feb – 13 March 1965 Nil 60 buildings, 4000 stock
Southern Highlands bushfires New South Wales 5–14 March 1965 3 59 homes
Tasmanian "Black Tuesday" bushfires Tasmania 264,000 650,000 7 February 1967 62 1,293 homes
Dandenong Ranges bushfire Victoria 1,920 4,700 19 February 1968 53 homes; 10 other buildings
1968 Blue Mountains Bushfire New South Wales 29 November 1968 4 over 120 homes
1969 bushfires Victoria 8 January 1969 23 230 houses
1974 Moolah-Corinya bushfires, Far West NSW New South Wales 1,117,000 2,760,000 Mid-December 1974 3 40 homes, 10,170 kilometres (6,320 mi) of fencing, 50,000 livestock
1974 Cobar bushfire New South Wales 1,500,000 3,700,000 Mid-December 1974
1974 Balranald bushfire New South Wales 340,000 840,000 Mid December 1974
1974–75 New South Wales bushfires New South Wales 4,500,000 11,000,000 1974–1975 season 6
1974–1975 Northern Territory bushfires Northern Territory 45,000,000 110,000,000 1974–1975 season
1974–1975 Queensland bushfires Queensland 7,500,000 19,000,000 1974–1975 season
1974–1975 South Australia bushfires South Australia 17,000,000 42,000,000 1974–1975 season
1974–1975 Western Australia bushfires Western Australia 29,000,000 72,000,000 1974–1975 season
Western Districts bushfires Victoria 103,000 250,000 12 February 1977 4 116 houses, 340 buildings
Blue Mountains Fires 1977 New South Wales 54,000 130,000 17 December 1977 2 49 houses
1978 Western Australian bushfires Western Australia 114,000 280,000 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 New South Wales December 1979 5 28 homes destroyed, 20 homes damaged
1980 Waterfall bushfire New South Wales 1,000,000 2,500,000 3 November 1980 5 firefighters 14 homes
Grays Point bushfire New South Wales 9 January 1983 3 volunteer firefighters
Ash Wednesday bushfires
  • South Australia
  • Victoria
418,000 1,030,000 16 February 1983 75 about 2,400 houses
1984 Western New South Wales grasslands bushfires New South Wales 500,000 1,200,000 25 December 1984 40,000 livestock, $40 million damage
1985 Cobar bushfire New South Wales 516,000 1,280,000 Mid January 1985 Nil
1984/85 New South Wales bushfires New South Wales 3,500,000 8,600,000 1984–1985 season 5
Central Victoria bushfires Victoria 50,800 126,000 14 January 1985 3 180+ houses
1994 Eastern seaboard fires New South Wales 400,000 990,000 27 December 1993 – 16 January 1994 4 225 homes
Wooroloo bushfire Western Australia 10,500 26,000 8 January 1997 Nil 16 homes
Dandenongs bushfire Victoria 400 990 21 January 1997 3 41 homes
Lithgow bushfire New South Wales 2 December 1997 2 firefighters
Menai bushfire New South Wales 2 December 1997 1 firefighter 11 homes destroyed, 30 homes damaged
Perth and SW Region bushfires Western Australia 23,000 57,000 2 December 1997 2 1 home lost
Linton bushfire Victoria 2 December 1998 5
Black Christmas bushfires New South Wales 300,000 740,000 25 December 2001 – 2002 Nil 121 homes
2002 NT bushfires Northern Territory 15,000,000 37,000,000 August–November 2002
2003 Canberra bushfires Australian Capital Territory 160,000 400,000 18–22 January 2003 4 almost 500 homes
2003 Eastern Victorian alpine bushfires Victoria 1,300,000 3,200,000 8 January – 8 March 2003 3 41 homes
Tenterden Western Australia 2,110,000 5,200,000 December 2003 2
2005 Eyre Peninsula bushfire South Australia 77,964 192,650 10–12 January 2005 9 93 homes
2006 Central Coast bushfire New South Wales New Years Day, 2006
Jail Break Inn Fire, Junee New South Wales 30,000 74,000 New Years Day 2006 Nil 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 160,000 400,000 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 184,000 450,000 January 2006 2
Pulletop bushfire, Wagga Wagga New South Wales 9,000 22,000 6 February 2006 Nil 2,500 sheep and 6 cattle killed, 3 vehicles and 2 hay sheds destroyed as well as 50 kilometres (31 mi) of fencing.
The Great Divides bushfire Victoria 1,048,000 2,590,000 1 December 2006 – March 2007 1 51 homes
2006–07 Australian bushfire season
  • New South Wales
  • South Australia
  • Tasmania
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia
1,360,000 3,400,000 September 2006 – January 2007 5 Over 100 structures including 83 houses; numerous non-residential structures
Dwellingup bushfire Western Australia 12,000 30,000 4 February 2007 Nil 16
Kangaroo Island bushfires South Australia 95,000 230,000 6–14 December 2007 1
Boorabbin National Park Western Australia 40,000 99,000 30 December 2007 3 Powerlines and Great Eastern Highway, forced to close for 2 weeks.
Black Saturday bushfires Victoria 450,000 1,100,000 7 February 2009 – 14 March 2009 173 2,029+ houses, 2,000 other structures.
Toodyay bushfire Western Australia 3,000 7,400 29 December 2009 Nil 38
Lake Clifton bushfire Western Australia 2,000 4,900 11 January 2011 Nil 10 homes destroyed.
Roleystone Kelmscott bushfire Western Australia 1,500 3,700 6–8 February 2011 Nil 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 9,900 24 November 2011 Nil 34 homes destroyed including the historic Wallcliffe House.
Tasmanian bushfires Tasmania 20,000 49,000 4 January 2013 1 At least 170 buildings
Warrumbungle bushfire New South Wales 54,000 130,000 18 January 2013 Nil At least 53 homes, 118 sheds, agricultural machinery and livestock. Infrastructure destroyed at Siding Spring Observatory.
2013 New South Wales bushfires New South Wales 100,000 250,000 17–28 October 2013 1 As of 19 October  2013 (2013 -10-19) at least 248 buildings destroyed statewide (inc. 208 dwellings), another 109 damaged in Springwood, Winmalee and Yellow Rock. Major fires also occurred in the Hunter, Central Coast, Macarthur and Port Stephens regions causing significant damage.
Carnarvon bushfire complex Western Australia 800,000 2,000,000 27 December 2011 – 3 February 2012 Nil 11 pastoral stations (fences, watering systems, water points, stock feed).
2014 Parkerville bushfire Western Australia 386 950 12 January 2014 Nil 56 homes.
2015 Sampson Flat bushfires South Australia 20,000 49,000 2–9 January 2015 Nil 27 homes, 140 outbuildings
2015 O'Sullivan bushfire (NorthcliffeWindy Harbour) Western Australia 98,923 244,440 29 January – 20 February 2015 Nil 1 home and 1 inhabited shed, 5 farm sheds and thousands of hectares of production forests (karri and jarrah) or national parks.
2015 Lower Hotham bushfire (Boddington) Western Australia 52,373 129,420 January 2015 Nil 1 house, 1 farm shed, 1 bridge and thousands of hectares of production forest (jarrah) or national parks.
2015 Esperance bushfires Western Australia 200,000 490,000 October–November 2015 4 About 10 houses and public buildings (Scaddan), 15,000 stock losses, 5 Nature Reserves et most area of Cape Arid national park.
Perth Hills bushfire complex – Solus Group Western Australia 10,016 24,750 15–24 November 2015 Nil Jarrah production forest and Conservation Park.
2015 Pinery bushfire South Australia 85,000 210,000 25 November – 2 December 2015 2 91 dwellings.
2016 Murray Road bushfire (Waroona and Harvey) Western Australia 69,165 170,910 January 2016 2 181 dwellings (166 only in Yarloop), historical Yarloop Workshops and thousands of hectares of Lane Poole Reserve and production forest (jarrah).
2017 New South Wales bushfires New South Wales 52,000 130,000 11–14 February 2017 Nil 35 dwellings.
2017 Carwoola bushfire New South Wales 3,500 8,600 17–18 February 2017 Nil 11 dwellings destroyed; 12 damaged.
2018 Tathra bushfire New South Wales 1,200 3,000 18–19 March 2018 Nil 69 houses and 30 caravans/cabins destroyed; 39 damaged.
Tabulam bushfire New South Wales 4,000 9,900 early February 2019 Nil 10 homes and 23 outbuildings destroyed.
Tingha bushfire New South Wales 17,000 42,000 early February 2019 Nil 8 homes and 18 outbuildings destroyed.
2019–20 Australian bushfire season
  • New South Wales
  • Queensland
  • South Australia
  • Tasmania
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia
  • Northern Territory
  • Australian Capital Territory
18,626,000 46,030,000 5 September 2019 – present 33 (including 3 NSW firefighters, 1 VIC firefighter and 3 US firefighters who were killed in a Lockheed C-130 Hercules Water Bomber crash in the Snowy Monaro region) 2600+ homes currently confirmed destroyed (as of 13 January 2020)
  • NSW 2162+ homes destroyed
  • SA 100+ homes destroyed
  • VIC 54+ homes destroyed
  • QLD 40+ homes destroyed
  • NT 5 homes destroyed
  • TAS 1 home destroyed
  • ACT recycling tip impacted
  • WA unknown homes destroyed
  • in total roughly over 8000 buildings have been lost nationwide (includes homes, out buildings and businesses/facilities)
Area Other
At least 1,000,000,000 wild animals are estimated to have died (not including frogs and insects) with some species thought to be facing extinction.

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