On Friday 28 December 2018, several bushfires were discovered following lightning in western Tasmania on 27 December, with many being brought under control over following days. However, a fire near the Gell River in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) was unable to be controlled and spread some 40 kilometres to the south-east over the next several weeks.
January 2019 was Tasmania’s warmest and driest on record. On 4 January, many residents evacuated from the township of Maydena and other settlements in the Tyenna Valley when thick smoke from the Gell River fire, 20 kilometres to the north-west, blanketed the area.
Lightning strikes on 15 January ignited some 60 additional fires, mainly in Tasmania’s west and central highlands. Many were controlled or self-extinguished over subsequent days, but several burning in remote and rugged terrain continued to spread. A fire near Riveaux Road in the Huon Valley and another near Great Pine Tier in the central highlands spread rapidly and threatened several small settlements in their path. Geeveston and several other small Huon Valley settlements were threatened for several days in January and February. An evacuation centre opened in Huonville on 24 January for almost two weeks.
Additional firefighters and support personnel from the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand (NZ), including many remote area specialist firefighters, and support personnel from Victoria for the base camp, joined fire crews from the Tasmania Fire Service, Parks & Wildlife Service and Sustainable Timber Tasmania to fight the fires.
The fires were eventually brought under control, with the last of the firefighters leaving the Gell River fire in the final week of March 2019. In total, more than 200,000 hectares had burned, representing 2.9 per cent of Tasmania’s land area.
On 30 March, the Premier released the terms of reference for an independent review into the 2018–19 bushfires, with the review expected to be delivered to government in July 2019. By early May, the estimated cost to bring the bushfires under control exceeded $60 million.