Human activity behind half of Australia’s bushfires: Report

Human activity behind half of Australia’s bushfires: Report

10 March 2008

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Australia — Nearly 50 percent of all bushfires across Australia are deliberately lit, with human activity responsible for the vast majority of all blazes.

In the first comprehensive national study into the cause of bushfires, an Australian Institute of Criminology report has found that natural causes made up just six per cent of all vegetation fires in Australia.

With between 45,000 and 60,000 vegetation fires recorded each year across the nation, the report identified “human causes” as the spark for most urban and regional blazes.

The report found that 37per cent of bushfires across the nation were considered suspicious, while 13 percent of fires were recorded as having been deliberately lit.

“These figures suggest that reducing deliberate bushfires can have a significant influence on the total number of fires in Australia,” the report said.

The report, which analysed 280,000 fires over five years, found more than 90 per cent of bushfires were the result of human activity, either deliberate or accidental.

Published last month, it is the nation’s first comprehensive analysis of the rate and cause of deliberately lit bushfires.

However, The Australian quoted the report’s author, Colleen Bryant, as warning that the figures were estimates only, with no causes listed for just over 40 per cent of all vegetation fires and different ways of determining whether a blaze had been deliberately lit or was suspicious.

Smoking was identified as being a far more common cause of non-deliberate, but preventable, fires in large cities than in regional areas.

Children were responsible for starting up to 24per cent of fires where the causes were known, with a high number of deliberate and accidental blazes between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.

With the exception of arson, the findings highlight the large number of preventable blazes that occur each year.

“Accidental fires, which account for 35per cent of all known vegetation fire causes, include those accidentally lit by children and smoking-related fires, the proportion of preventable vegetation fires is much higher,” the report said.

Between one third and half of all bushfires occurred in and around capital cities, with most deliberate fire “hot spots” located in the outer fringes of metropolitan areas.

The highest rates of deliberately lit fires were in Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territories, which both recorded 69 per cent of all fires.

Up to 41 per cent of all blazes in NSW were started deliberately, compared to up to 32 per cent of fires in Victoria and between 40 and 50per cent in Queensland. NSW battles more bushfires than any other state, with about 16,500 each year.

The report also examines the timing of deliberately lit fires, with up to 50per cent of all deliberately lit fires occurring on weekends.

A higher proportion of deliberately lit fires occurred between 6pm and 6am, compared to only a third of non-deliberate fires that occur overnight.

On weekends, most deliberately lit fires happen between 1pm and 4pm.

The report said the findings should prompt a revised approach to fire prevention and arson reduction, particularly in areas of urban growth and social disadvantage.

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