What is a Bushfire?

Bushfires and grassfires are common throughout Australia. Grassfires are fast moving, passing in five to ten seconds and smouldering for minutes. They have a low to medium intensity and primarily damage crops, livestock and farming infrastructure, such as fences. Bushfires are generally slower moving, but have a higher heat output. This means they pass in two to five minutes, but they can smoulder for days. Fire in the crown of the tree canopy can move rapidly.

Bushfires are an intrinsic part of Australia's environment. Natural ecosystems have evolved with fire, and the landscape, along with its biological diversity, has been shaped by both historic and recent fires. Many of Australia's native plants are fire prone and very combustible while numerous species depend on fire to regenerate.

Fire is both feared and harnessed. Indigenous Australians have long used fire as a land management tool and it continues to be used to clear land for agricultural purposes and to protect properties from intense, uncontrolled fires.

In the years between 1967 and 1999, major Australian bushfires have cost A$2.5 billion according to the Bureau of Transport and Economics report: Economic Costs of Natural Disasters in Australia, 2001. This corresponds to an average of about 7.1 per cent of the cost of all major natural disasters in Australia during those years. In the same period, Australian bushfires resulted in the deaths of 223 people and injuries to another 4185, accounting for 39 per cent of deaths and 57 per cent of the injuries from all major Australian natural disasters in the period. Several major fires have affected Australia since 1999, including the 2009 Victorian fires (173 deaths and more than 2000 homes lost), the 2006 Eyre Peninsular fires (nine deaths and 110 people injured) and the 2003 Canberra fire (four deaths, more than 100 people injured and around 500 homes lost).