Bushfires in Australia: What Are the Risks?

As I mentioned in my post Repent All Australians: The End of the World is Nigh last Friday, we are currently going through a very hot spell here in Australia.

Well, that’s why many people move to Australia, isn’t it, for the hot weather?

Yes, but sometimes in some places it can get too hot and too dry. When that happens, the risk of bushfires is high, as I explained in my post about Fire Safety in Australia.

Right now we at the height of bushfire season, so far Tasmania have suffered the most. Fires have burned over 110,000 hectares and more than 130 homes have been destroyed there.

Yesterday, in a fire described as “shocking”, 40,000 hectares of land have been destroyed claiming 33 homes along the way.

Bushfires mapSo how worried should you be about bushfires in Australia?

Bushfires in Australia

I decided to do some digging to see just how serious this problem is in Australia. It goes without saying of course, that losing your house and all of your belongings must be absolutely devastating. I don’t even want to think about the horror of losing your life in one of these fires or any fire.

What I am going to do though, is look at a few key facts.

  • Since 1851 around 800 people have been killed in Australia by bushfires.
  • That’s about five people per year on average.
  • Something like 14,000 houses have been destroyed by fire since 1926.
  • That’s about 160 houses per year on average.

How can you protect yourself from these dangers?

It won’t surprise you to learn that the more rural the location of your house, the higher the risk of it being destroyed by a bushfire. Or as we would put it here in Australia, the closer you live to the bush, the higher the risk.

Professor John McAneney and Dr Keping Chen did a good deal of research on this; here are some of their key findings:

  • 85% or more of the properties lost since the 1967 Hobart bushfires were located within 100 metres of the bush.
  • They found no record of buildings further than 700 metres being lost to bushfires.
  • Properties located within 50 metres of bushland during extreme fire weather conditions have about a 50-60% chance of being destroyed.
  • For homes within 10 metres, the figure rises to 80-90%.

Statistics state-by-state:

According to Risk Frontiers, since 1926:

  • Victoria has suffered the worst, losing over 7,300 houses in 209 bushfires.
  • Next is NSW who had more bushfires, over 400, but lost fewer houses at just over 2,300.
  • In third, Tasmania with 23 events claiming 1,646 houses. 1,293 of those houses were lost in fires around Hobart in 1967 in the Black Tuesday bushfires.
  • Then it’s ACT who lost 1,178 houses in just four bushfires.
  • Next, South Australia had 53 bushfires which destroyed just over 1,100 homes.
  • In Western Australia 57 bushfires destroyed 407 houses.
  • Queensland got off lightest, with only 33 homes lost in 37 bushfires.
  • I’m not sure why, but there were no figures for Northern Territory.

If bushfires were a killer creature, they would be Australia’s most lethal; you can see the stats for our other critters on my page Australia’s Killer Creatures and Death.

With bushfires though, you can minimise the risk according to where you live. Mind you, you can also do that with crocodiles and if you avoid going swimming in the sea, you can do the same with sharks and our other sea dwelling killers.

Hot versus Cold

Cold can be a killer too.

According to the Health Protection Agency (HPA), “On average over the last decade, the average number of excess winter deaths in England has been just over 25,100 a year.”

The Mail Online claimed that “More than 2,500 people in England and Wales are likely to perish from cold in the week leading up to Christmas…

It has to be said that the HPA figures, as I understand them, only tell us how many additional people die during January to March in the UK over and above the average for the rest of the year. The Mail Online figures sound quite scary though.

Well, both sets of figures are scary!

Not too many people die from the cold here in Australia, and for the record, B. Geerts and E. Linacre claim that on average 23 people die as a result of heat waves each year here in Australia.


So there you have some facts and figures about bushfires in Australia. I got my information from the following sources…

With the houses lost so far this year in Tasmania and New South Wales we have already reached the yearly average. It would be nice to think that nobody else in Australia will lose their house to a bushfire this year. But there’s a long way to go for bushfire season, there are already severe fire danger warnings in place for South Australia tomorrow.

Let’s just hope that everybody stays safe.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Joyce January 17, 2013, 5:20 pm |

    I have to say that the numbers for Victoria being as high as they are is probably mainly due to the 2009 Black Saturday bush fires. On that day alone 2000 houses were lost…
    So it’s a little of an “off” number, to me. never has any state lost that many houses and lives in one single fire season.

    On a personal note; I moved to Vic 2 years, a rural block, away from concrete jungle Holland. The fire season is still something I find intimidating, especially now that we’ve had 4 total fire ban days. Still a bit uncomfortable with the idea that we -have- to pack up and leave if a fire does threaten our home. It’s not much, but it is home none the less.


    • BobinOz January 19, 2013, 12:28 am |

      Well, yes, the devastating bushfires on Black Saturday do add significantly to Victoria’s toll, but even without them they would still have suffered over twice as many lost houses as the next most vulnerable state, NSW.

      I can understand why you feel uncomfortable at times like this, you must always be looking over your shoulder. I was on holiday in Victoria a couple weeks before those fires in 2009, I was very much aware of how dry everything was but totally unconcerned about bushfires as I enjoyed the countryside. I’d only been here about the year, I just didn’t know. Ignorance was bliss, at the time.

      Sadly, as we speak, a massive fire is ripping through Gippsland in Victoria, more houses have been lost and an 80-year-old man has died in his car.

      Let’s hope they get that one under control soon, although already the talk is of a two-week fight. I hope you stay safe Joyce.


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