New South Wales, April 2018

Holsworthy bushfire, 2018

In mid-April 2018, a bushfire near Holsworthy in Sydney’s south-west spread quickly in warmer than usual autumn conditions, threatening hundreds of homes.

April was another warm month for Australia; the secondwarmest April on record in terms of mean temperature, and a new record for national mean maximum temperature. Numerous station records for highest April mean maximum temperature were set in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Minimum temperatures were in the warmest ten per cent of historical observations for April for a large area extending from South Australia to most of New South Wales, southwest Queensland and the far south of the Northern Territory. These conditions reflected a persistent heatwave over much of Australia for the first half of April.

Australia’s rainfall for April was the eighth-driest on record; it was the driest April since 1997. Rainfall across southern Australia was well below average, with the mainland southeast particularly dry. Rainfall for southern Australia was the fourth-lowest on record for April.

For New South Wales as a whole, the mean temperature was 3.30 degrees Celsius warmer than average, exceeding the previous April record of +3.20 degrees Celsius, set in 2005. Rainfall was the lowest on record at a number of stations in the state.

The fire broke out on Saturday 14 April on the banks of the Georges River, near the Casula railway station, at about the time the temperature in nearby Holsworthy peaked at 31.2 degrees Celsius. By the following day, more than 500 firefighters from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) and Fire and Rescue New South Wales and personnel from the Australian Defence Force were battling the blaze, with almost 100 fire trucks and 15 aircraft. Fanned by strong north-west winds, the fire soon threatened the Holsworthy military base to the south-east. Three thousand, eight hundred hectares had burnt before the fire was brought under control several days later.

Emergency warnings were issued for several suburbs adjacent to the fire, and all but essential staff at both the Holsworthy military base and the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor were evacuated as the fire approached. However, no structures were reported damaged at either facility.

During and after the fire, NSW RFS building impact assessment teams surveyed affected suburbs around the bushfire’s perimeter. Firefighters and residents saved 888 homes, six facilities and one outbuilding from destruction. Only five properties were reported damaged, including one by wind. No lives were lost in the fire.

The New South Wales Police Force established Taskforce Capri to determine the cause of the fire, which is believed to have been deliberately lit.



This incident was included in the Major Incidents Report 2017-18 (Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience, 2018). The report acknowledges the following sources:

Bureau of Meteorology 2018, Monthly Weather Review: April 2018. At:
Bureau of Meteorology 2018, Special Climate Statement 65: Persistent summer-like heat sets many April records. At:
Illawarra Mercury
New South Wales Department of Justice 2018, Bega Valley Fires Independent Review, June 2018, ('Keelty Report'). At:
New South Wales Rural Fire Service