There is no evidence to suggest a correlation between the incidence or the ferocity of bush fires and climate change. Bush fires are no more prevalent today than what they were in the early 1900’s. While Australia is particularly fire-prone, natural fires account for only six percent of known causes of vegetation fires attended by fire services. At least 90 percent are the result of people’s actions.

Fire Beyond Our Door    Click to enlarge

More often than not the result of deliberate ignitions; incendiary (maliciously lit) and suspicious fires account for one-half of known fire causes in Australia, and are the largest single cause of vegetation fires. However, if we consider in this analysis that accidental fires, which account for 35 percent 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. Forty percent of all fires attended across Australia do not have a cause assigned by the responding fire agency. Bush fire arson is an important issue in Australia, but studies analysing its prevalence and distribution are sparse and have focused on isolated areas or specific data collections. This paper summarises key findings of the Australian Institute of Criminology’s extensive analysis of vegetation fires attended by Australian fire agencies, and represents the first attempt to quantify the extent of deliberately lit fires in Australia, focusing

on when and where deliberate fires occur, and how their distribution varies as a function of natural and human factors. The study identifies the need for improved collection and integration of key data to inform both policy and practice.

Six% of Fires From  Natural Causes  Click to enlarge

Despite the limitations of the empirical data, important implications for the management of fire and the prevention of ignitions are discussed. The paper notes the need to examine management practices along the urban interface including strategies to build community cohesion in rapidly growing population centres in these interfaces. It also highlights the need to develop ongoing resourced arson reduction strategies that effectively target broad sections of the community, while maintaining strategies that target specific offenders.

Mega Fire                       Click to enlarge

As most vegetation fires are caused by people, their distribution is linked closely to human populations. Vegetation fires are not a phenomenon that is restricted to vegetated, sparsely populated areas of regional and rural Australia. While many Australians live in fear of the scenario where bushfires emerge out of the bush to threaten homes and lives, most vegetation fires in Australia result from the flow-on effects of human populations into neighbouring natural landscapes. Between one-third and one-half of all vegetation fires attended by fire services in any state or territory occur in and around the capital city, with the greatest concentrations evident in the broad zone along the urban interface – the zone where people and vegetation coexist and interact. Similarly, high numbers of vegetation fires are associated with major regional centres, compared with neighbouring rural areas.

Conservation areas and forestry resources located next to urban areas, areas of population growth and expansion, or otherwise higher densities of people are vulnerable to increased fire-related problems. These include incendiarism and/or careless and reckless behaviour, such as increased instances of vegetation fires arising from torching of abandoned or stolen vehicles. Increased unplanned fire activity up to 10 km from the urban interface has been documented in highly vegetated areas of the Sydney basin (Davidson 2006). These results potentially have significant ecological implications. It may be insufficient to simply allocate a certain portion of land for the protection of specific ecosystems or species. To ensure that environmental values are preserved, additional measures may be required to minimise human impacts; for example, through the establishment of environment buffers, intelligent and innovative environmental design, education, and crime and safety measures.


It is difficult to accurately assess the number and proportion of fires started by children. This reflects both the problems associated with identifying the person responsible for a fire and limitations in the way that fires started by children are recorded in existing database structures. With the exception of some land management agencies, specific data were only available for instances where children had been implicated in accidentally causing the fire. Children were responsible for up to 24 percent of known fire causes by individual agencies, with the highest rates being reported by metropolitan/urban fire services. However, children under 16 years of age are likely to be significant contributors to the incidence of vegetation fires in all jurisdictions. The role of children in lighting fires is shown in the higher than predicted numbers of both deliberate and accidental fires between 3 pm and 6 pm, Monday to Friday. The inability to accurately identify the number and distribution of fires started by children is of concern, as it hinders the ability of fire services to evaluate the need for, and effectiveness of, interventions and education programs for children and adolescents who are likely to light fires.


Smoking-related activities are a common cause of non-deliberate, but preventable, fires attended by urban fire services (commonly 3 to 14%), but comprise a low proportion of all fires attended by rural fire services and land management agencies (1 to 4%). Markedly higher rates of smoking-related fires exist in metropolitan cities, particularly in inner city areas. For example, 41 percent of all fires attended by the Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board, an agency whose jurisdiction is restricted to metropolitan Melbourne, were identified as smoking-related. Comparable rates are observed in inner city areas of Perth and Brisbane. Higher rates of smoking-related fires in urban areas coincide with greater population densities, resulting in a greater density of smokers and discarded cigarettes, and a greater prevalence of loose, highly combustible mulch in roadside and other urban landscaping.

Hot spots

Deliberate fire hot spots are characterised by high rates of fires per person, and commonly account for a high proportion of fires in a region, and potentially in a state or territory. High fire concentrations are evident across all agencies with responsibilities in the vicinity of the hot spot, so a genuine picture of the incendiary activity can only be achieved by combining data from each of the relevant agencies. These hot spots are commonly located on the outer fringes of metropolitan areas, although regional examples also occur, and they generally lie within the broad zone along the urban interface. These communities are commonly characterised by a relatively low median age and/or a high proportion of young persons and, commonly, are socioeconomically disadvantaged (Nicolopoulos et al. 1997). In many instances, these are also areas characterised by a greater concentration of other problematic and antisocial behaviours.

Rapid urban expansion

Areas of rapid urban expansion on the margins of metropolitan and regional centres commonly fall under the jurisdiction of rural services until a sufficient population density is reached and fire service provision boundaries are altered. Rapid increases in total fire numbers, commonly as a result of increased numbers of deliberate fires, place great strain on rural fire services, which rely principally on the efforts of volunteers. In many instances, these services may already face personnel shortages as a result of their aging population base, and face difficulties in recruiting and retaining new members at least in part due to the time required.

The day

Generally, between 20 to 50 percent more deliberate, and 20 to 40 percent more accidental fires occur on Saturday and Sunday compared with weekdays, but locally higher values can be observed. Analysis of accidental fires indicates daily differences in fire attendances throughout the whole week are linked strongly to specific causes (e.g. use of recreational facilities). Similar relationships are likely to exist for deliberate fires, but there is limited capacity to investigate this possibility.

The time

The timing of fires varies depending on the cause. Fires started by lightning potentially occur at any time of the day, but most natural fires coincide with the hot conditions conducive to thunderstorm activity, between midday and 6 pm. While impacted by natural forces, the timing of human-caused vegetation fires are related strongly to the timetables of people, whether they are day-to-day activities relating to work, school, shopping, or other personal or social activities. Surprisingly, almost one-quarter of all vegetation fires in Australia are attended between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am.

The timing of accidental and deliberate fires, and the extent of differences between the two, may vary between brigades, agencies and jurisdictions depending on variations in the principal causes of fires, and also on differences in the way specific causes (e.g. fires started by children) are classified.

A higher proportion of all deliberate fires (on average, 48%) occur between 6 pm and 6 am, compared with non-deliberate fires (on average, 30%). During the day, deliberate fires peak between 3 pm and 6 pm, while accidental fires peak slightly earlier, between 1 pm and 4 pm. The window between 3 pm and 6 pm on weekdays reflects the time in which younger persons often travel unaccompanied by an adult through their local environment. On weekends, peak numbers of deliberate fires occur between 1 pm and 4 pm.

Deliberate fires at night – between 6 pm and 6 am – are most evident in urban and semi-urban environments, and primarily occur between Friday night and Saturday morning and Saturday night and Sunday morning in most jurisdictions (20 to 50%). The timing of night fires is highly variable at a local scale, probably due to local variations in social and cultural patterns of human activity, which govern when, where and how people interact with their local environment. The overall timing of fires started by children varies with age, such that by 13 to 16 years the patterns are virtually indistinguishable from general deliberate fire distributions.


  1. Marmion says:

    A nine year old boy lit a fire with a blow torch in the fire ban area and a man was apprehended for burning fence palings in a drum! A 27-year-old man lit a fire at Wallacia in Sydney’s west on Monday afternoon to boil water to make a cup of tea.
    That is stupidity not climate change!!

  2. Trevor Guest says:

    Many of these arsonists tend to be loners, often unemployed and have a grudge against society. Then there are others that have a pathological fascination with fire, a mental condition called Pyromania. It provides them with some sought of release. Some of them are part of a voluntary fire fighting service who attend to some of the fires that they themselves have started.

    1. Charles says:

      There is a well organised group who are deliberately lighting these fires.
      The Australian Newspaper reported that two people have already been charged after allegedly impersonating firefighters.
      One a 19-year-old man was found allegedly dressed in an RFS uniform in the Royal National Park following the Loftus fires in Sydney’s south. The man was stopped by police after he was spotted riding a scooter in the Royal National Park, dressed as a firefighter.
      He has since been charged with impersonating an emergency services officer and will face Sutherland Court on December 4.
      Police officers at Lismore charged two men after they were found with emergency service paraphernalia including RFS uniform patches, documentation, equipment and helmets.

      1. Shirl says:

        They should all be charged with attempted murder.

  3. Florida Mansions says:

    I would not put it passed one of these global warming extremists, with pyromaniac tendencies, who might feel justified in lighting a fire to demonstrate the need for more action to arrest climate change.

  4. Tony says:

    “The system does not and cannot exist to satisfy human needs. Instead, it is human behavior that has to be modified to fit the needs of the system.”
    Sound familiar?

  5. june says:

    So far ten people have been charged with arson while a number of others are being questioned.
    Global Warming??

  6. kevin says:

    The so called Global Warming has been grossly exaggerated.
    NOAA have raised temperature anomalies, (the amount of warming above the combined average global land and ocean surface temperatures of the 20th century average of 13.9°C), from what was originally listed in each of their Annual Global Climate Reports, between 2001 to 2017. According to the recent NOAA National Centre for environmental information Climate: Global Time Series, published June 2019. 1880-2017, the anomalies listed in each year’s report appear to have been changed by as much as 0.10 C, (2010 from 0.62 C to 0.72 C). You have to question the accuracy of previous decades if only those of the last 17-18 years had to be amended. Even the temperature anomaly for 2017 was raised from 0.84 C to 0.90 C.

  7. N G says:

    What now for the IPCC? Do they reinstate The Little Ice Age and The Medieval Warming Period they had previously removed from their papers and replaced them with Michael Mann’s shonky Hockey Stick graph that was supposed to “prove” the current warming of the planet was unprecedented?

  8. Margaret Bayne-West says:

    If the deniers want to be called skeptics then they need to change their tune. Too many rant about the climate religion or cult and adherents to the science are called lefties or marxists.

    1. Reg says:

      If the facts don’t fit the theory then the facts have to go!

  9. dave says:

    The genuine Climate Scientists are telling the truth but get abused and vilified for speaking out and get labelled “deniers”.
    The AGW / CC Alarmists and Zealots hate hearing the truth as it distracts from their main agenda of social engineering and wealth re-distribution.

  10. Brian Cox says:

    The Met office/CRU data show the average global temperature for 1998 at 14.460 C and 14.577 C for 2018.
    The NOAA data for the same years shows similar readings at 14.550 C and 14.690 C respectively.

    Although the credibility of the Met Office/CRU data has been questioned (climategate) they still showed cooler temperatures in the period. Either way it is hard to justify all this global warming dogma.

  11. Name Withheld says:

    Heated on emotion, fanned by sensationalist media and fuelled by ideology, it burns through common sense, reason and decency, showing no respect for facts or rational thought. People are waking up to the climate change hoax.

  12. Judith says:

    We are not exploiting the fires to push an alarmist view – the fires are confirming our worst held fears that climate change predictions are coming true. The facts are this – the latest IPCC report from August this year co-authored by climate experts from over 30 countries states that ‘current levels of global warming are associated with moderate risks from increased dry land water scarcity, soil erosion, vegetation loss, wildfire damage, permafrost thawing, coastal degradation and tropical crop yield decline. Risks, including cascading risks, are projected to become increasingly severe with increasing temperatures.’ So the experts are predicting increased wildfire damages from global warming – why are some so intent on trying to pretend it isn’t happening rather than getting on with the job of trying to prevent more damage?

  13. Four Freedoms says:

    The biggest existential threat to our world, our civilisation and our way of life is postmodernism and Neo Marxism seeking to divide and subjugate citizens with all manner of strategies including the climate change cult, 3rd and 4th Wave feminism, identity politics, political correctness and brainwashing of our children in schools and universities. Our living standards and our freedoms are under unrelenting attack from progressives who seem to get better and better at feathering their own nests on taxpayer coin.

  14. Wayne says:

    It was a major blow to the climate change movement when Michael Mann, the author of the now dodgy hockey stick graph, has had costs awarded against him in his defamation action against professor Tim Ball. Michael Mann had refused to produce data as directed by the court. He said he would appeal but no court in the land would ever rule in his favor while he refuses to submit his data.

  15. Isobel says:

    In 2015 Prime Minister Tony Abbott set in train an audit of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology’s temperature adjustments that increased Australia’s apparent warming, but one of the first moves of his successor, Malcolm Turnbull, was to scuttle that audit.

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