Area burnt in prescribed burns and bushfiresIndicator
Since 2003, there have been no large bushfires in the ACT. The area of prescribed burns far exceeds that of bushfires, accounting for 94% of the total hectares burnt between 2004 to April 2019, and 96% between 2015 to 2019. Prescribed burns are dominated by fuel reduction activities, with ecological and cultural burns responsible for only 2% of all burning activity between 2015 and April 2019. However, there is a growing recognition of the importance of fire for vegetation, biodiversity and cultural management in the ACT. Arson remains an issue for fire occurrence in the ACT, responsible for 45% of ignitions between 2004 and April 2019, compared to 16% for lightning and 10% for accidents.
Indicator assessment legend
Environmental condition is healthy across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have negligible impact on environmental condition/human health.
Environmental condition is neither positive or negative and may be variable across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have limited impact on environmental condition/human health.
Environmental condition is under significant stress, OR pressure likely to have significant impact on environmental condition/ human health.
Data is insufficient to make an assessment of status and trends.
Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Limited evidence or limited consensus
Evidence and consensus too low to make an assessment
Assessments of status, trends and data quality are not appropriate for the indicator
Condition and trends
Total area burnt
Since the devastating 2003 bushfires, which burnt an area of 164,000 hectares, there have been no large bushfires in the ACT (Figure F1). The annual area of vegetation burnt in bushfires since 2003 has mostly been under 100 hectares except for 591 hectares in 2004, 1,474 hectares in 2006, and 443 hectares in 2018. Since 2003, the area subject to prescribed burning has far exceeded that of bushfires, accounting for 94% of the 45,000 hectares burnt between 2004 and April 2019.
Figure F1: Area of prescribed burns and bushfires in the ACT, 2003 to April 2019.
During the reporting period (2015 to 2019), over 13,000 hectares were burnt in total with prescribed burns responsible for 96% (12,540 hectares) of the total area burnt (Figures F1 and F2). Bushfires burnt around 530 hectares with most fires burning only small areas, with two exceptions: the 204-hectare Pierces Creek fire in November 2018, caused by an abandoned vehicle being set alight in an act of arson; and a fire in Namadgi National Park in March 2018, caused by a prescribed burn re-ignition which burnt around 200 hectares.
The vast majority of prescribed burns in the ACT are undertaken for fuel reduction purposes (Figure F3). Between 2009 and April 2019, fuel reduction burns accounted for 99% (around 31,500 hectares) of all prescribed burns in the ACT.
Figure F3: Area of prescribed burns by purpose in the ACT, 2009 to April 2019.
Ecological and cultural burning has increased in the ACT (Figure F4). The period 2015 to April 2019 saw a large growth in ecological burning with 270 hectares treated, although this only accounted for 2% of all prescribed burns. In addition, 10 hectares were burnt for both cultural and ecological reasons (multiple purpose) and one hectare for cultural purposes only. These results demonstrate the ACT’s growing recognition of the importance of fire for vegetation, biodiversity and cultural management.
Figure F4: Area of ecological and cultural prescribed burns in the ACT, 2009 to April 2019.
Causes of bushfires
Bushfires are started by natural causes such as lightning, and by human causes. Human-caused ignitions include deliberate acts such as arson and illegal burning-off, as well as through accidents or careless acts. They also include ignitions from power lines, motor vehicles, campfires, motor vehicle accidents and sparks from machinery.
Between 2004 and April 2019, arson accounted for 45% of all non-prescribed burn ignitions in the ACT, compared to 16% for lightning and 10% for accidents (Figure F5). These results show that most fires in the ACT are deliberately lit. For many fires, however, the cause cannot be ascertained with unknown ignition source fires accounting for nearly 30% of the total fires recorded between 2004 and April 2019.