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Research into 2017 NSW bush fires

During January and February 2017, NSW faced some of the most difficult bush fire conditions ever forecast. Catastrophic fire danger ratings were experienced across a number of areas, and a series of large and destructive fires impacted on communities.

In an effort to learn from these events, the NSW RFS has engaged the Bushfire & Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre to conduct community research.

This research has now concluded and the final report of the research team will be released shortly.

The October 2013 bush fires

The NSW Rural Fire Service engaged the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre to conduct community research into the October 2013 bush fires.

Research was conducted in three locations affected by the bush fires:

  • Port Stephens
  • Blue Mountains (including Springwood/Winmalee, Mount Victoria and along the Bells Line of Road)
  • Southern Highlands (Balmoral Area).

Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with people in these communities, to assist with compiling a report for the NSW RFS into community preparedness and response, and to assist with improvements to bush fire safety initiatives.

Research Report

The research report can be accessed below:

The January 2013 bush fires

The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) engaged the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (Bushfire CRC) to conduct research into the community response to the January 2013 bush fires.

Bushfire CRC researcher in CoonabarabranJanuary 2013 saw NSW experience record temperatures, with some of the worst fire danger conditions ever recorded in many locations. By the end of the fire season, more than 6,000 bush and grass fires had been reported, burning 1.4 million hectares, with 62 homes, 50,000 head of livestock and 10,170 km of fencing destroyed.

Areas around Yass, Shoalhaven and Coonabarabran were impacted by large fires. Communities around Yass and Shoalhaven were impacted on 8 January, while the Coonabarabran fire threatened communities on 13 January. All three fires had the potential to have done more damage than they did if extensive suppression activities – such as the use of aircraft – had not been undertaken, if weather conditions had not abated, and the communities had not responded appropriately.

Key findings of the research include:

  • Many people had a basic plan for what to do when threatened by a bushfire, but few had documented it or used the NSW RFS bush fire survival plan  kit to document their response.
  • Most interviewees felt well prepared and had prepared their family much more than their home and property, and over half had cleared space around their home.
  • Interviewees, once they received information or warnings, often sought more detailed, localised or updated information, such as from local RFS sources, friends, neighbours and the media.
  • As the fires spread, the naming of fires based on their starting point did not reflect their current location, leading to some misperceptions of fire position for some people.
  • While telephone alerts are now the preferred method of warning for many in the community, many interviewees were unable to receive messages due to a pre-existing lack of mobile phone coverage in the affected areas and this contributed to their delayed decision-making.
  • Few residents understood the implications of the different fire danger levels on their safety, and actions to take at each, apart from Catastrophic.

Research report

The research report can be accessed below: