New South Wales, July 2019 - March 2020

Bushfires - Black Summer

Quick Statistics

26 Fatalities
$1.88 Billion Insurance Costs
2448 Homes Destroyed

The 2019–20 bushfire season was the worst New South Wales (NSW) has recorded. Higher than average temperatures and low moisture levels in bushfire fuels following several years of drought enabled devastating fires to burn across much of the state, with intense bushfire weather conditions continuing through most of the fire season. Over the course of a few months, 26 lives were lost, 2,448 homes were destroyed and 5.5 million hectares (ha) of land was burnt. The impact on NSW communities, farmers, local businesses, wildlife and bushland was unprecedented.

The length and intensity of the bushfire season and the scale of the fires challenged the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) and other NSW agencies like never before. On 8 November for example, there were an unprecedented 17 fires for which emergency warnings – the highest alert level – had been issued. Due to the unusually dry conditions, fire behaviour was more erratic and less predictable than in previous experience, often meaning that well-tested firefighting techniques were not always as effective as in the past. Such challenges were compounded by worsening drought conditions and an unprecedented number of fire initiated thunderstorms.

From 1 July 2019 to the end of the bushfire season on 31 March 2020, there were more than 11,400 bush and grass fires across NSW. The fires burnt 6.2 per cent of the state – the largest burnt area recorded in a single fire season in eastern Australia.

Tragically, the season also resulted in the loss of several lives, including 20 civilians: three in October, five in November, four in December and eight in January. Six firefighters also died, including two RFS volunteers killed on 19 December when their fire tanker rolled down an embankment, one RFS volunteer who sustained fatal injuries in a freak weather event on 30 December, and three American citizens who were killed when their plane crashed during water-bombing operations on 23 January in the Snowy Monaro area.

Building impact assessments were conducted on 81 fires between 11 August 2019 and 1 March 2020. Assessments were completed on foot and by drone, helicopter, boat and trail bike by more than 70 RFS staff and 15 volunteers, assisted by numerous other agency personnel.

As well as burning down 2,448 homes, the fires destroyed 284 facilities and 5,469 outbuildings, and damaged 1,013 other homes, 194 facilities and 2,042 outbuildings, with the majority of property losses occurring in southern NSW. In areas assessed by the RFS, an estimated 14,519 homes, 1,486 facilities and 14,016 outbuildings were saved by firefighting protective measures.

Losses experienced by the agricultural community were also grave, with thousands of farms affected by significant losses of livestock, placing further strain on a sector already suffering wide-spread effects of drought.

More than three billion animals, more than one billion of them in NSW, were estimated to have been killed or displaced in the fires, including some rare or threatened animal, plant and insect species, with the complete loss of some species believed to be permanent.

The RFS was supported in its firefighting efforts by personnel from Fire and Rescue NSW, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Forestry Corporation of NSW, the State Emergency Service and the NSW Police Force. In addition, 5,728 interstate and overseas fire and emergency service personnel were deployed. Many other government and non-government agencies also supported the effort in many ways.

On 8 November and following multiple bushfires across eastern and south-eastern Australia, the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) declared the fires a catastrophe, enabling related insurance claims to be processed more rapidly. On 28 May 2020, the ICA advised that insurance claims from the bushfires in 2019–20 across NSW, Queensland, Victoria (VIC) and South Australia numbered 38,181, with estimated losses of $2.32 billion. NSW accounted for 81 per cent of these losses, or $1.88 billion.

A wide range of disaster assistance payments and allowances were made available through joint Commonwealth-State arrangements to assist individuals, primary producers, businesses, non-profit organisations and local governments that had been impacted by the bushfires.

Due to the ongoing and significant impact of the fires, on 6 January 2020 the Australian Government committed $2 billion to the National Bushfire Recovery Fund to provide further assistance to individuals and communities impacted by the fires, bringing total government assistance available to almost $2.65 billion.

On 20 February 2020 the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was established.

Specific fire events

Northern NSW

Long Gully Road fire in Tenterfield

Bees Nest fire in Clarence Valley

Busbys Flat Road fire in Richmond Valley

Liberation Trail fire in Clarence Valley

Carrai Creek in Armidale

Carrai East in Kempsey

Kian Road in Nambucca

Stockyard Flat in Armidale

Myall Creek Road in the Richmond Valley

Gulf Road in Tenterfield

Kangawalla in Glen Innes

Mt McKenzie fire in Tenterfield

In northern NSW, 1,136,815 ha burned, representing 20.6 per cent of the total area burned in NSW during the fire season, and 703 homes (21.3 per cent of the total) were lost in the area. Homes destroyed in the Liberation Trail fire in the Clarence Valley alone totalled 169.

From July until the end of December, there were approximately 15 declared bushfire emergencies in northern NSW and 46 total fire bans affecting various LGAs. Several fires reached emergency warning status during the fire season, with some lasting for several days at a time

 

Greater Sydney and the mid-north coast region

Mid-north coast

Hillville Road

Bills Crossing Crowdy

Failford Road Darawank and Rumba Complex fires

Three Mile fire on the central coast

Green Wattle Creek fire (Wollondilly) 

Ruined Castle and the Green Valley fires in the Blue Mountains

Morton fire (Wingecarribee)

Gospers Mountain fire

Fires in this region burned 1,286,126 ha (23.3 per cent of the NSW total), and destroyed 308 homes (12.6 per cent of the total lost).

During the Green Wattle Creek fire south-west of Sydney, two volunteer firefighters were killed when their fire tanker rolled late during the night of Thursday 19 December at Buxton, leaving three others injured in the accident. Their truck had been part of a convoy when the accident occurred.

The Gospers Mountain fire destroyed 90 homes across the Hawkesbury, Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Singleton LGAs.

From 1 July to 31 December, the Greater Sydney and mid-north coast regions experienced approximately 11 declared bushfire emergencies and 26 total fire bans. Emergency warnings were issued for several fires, some lasting for several days at a time.

 

Southern NSW

Badja Forest Road fire

Currowan fire

Dunns Road fire in Snowy Valley

Good fire in the Snowy Monaro region

Green Valley Talmalmo fire

Werri Berri fire in the Bega Valley

Border fire in the far south

Clyde Mountain Upper Turon fire

Combined, these fires burned 1,506,193 ha (27.3 per cent of NSW’s total area burned) and 1,523 homes (58 per cent of the total).

The Badja Forest Road fire destroyed 418 homes, of which 289 were lost in the Bega Valley alone. The community of Cobargo was the hardest hit, with 70 homes lost, five facilities destroyed, 168 outbuildings lost and a further 33 homes damaged. Of the areas assessed by RFS across these fires, 5,705 threatened homes remained untouched.

The fires also claimed the lives of three American crew members, killed when their aircraft crashed during water-bombing operations on the Good fire in the Snowy Monaro region.

A volunteer RFS firefighter sustained fatal injuries at the Green Valley fire on 30 December.

From 1 July to 31 December, southern NSW experienced eight declared bushfire emergencies and 21 total fire bans. Emergency warnings, some for several days, were issued for several fires during the fire season.

Gallery

Online videos

Content warning – viewers are advised that the stories and images in these videos may be distressing to some people.

New South Wales Rural Fire Service: 2019/2020 bush fire season comes to a close.