January 2003

Bushfire - Alpine Region and north-eastern Victoria

Quick Statistics

12 Million Insurance Costs
41 Homes Destroyed
The Alpine bushfires started on 8 January 2003, a day of Total Fire Ban. Lightning ignited 87 fires in the North-East and East Gippsland regions. Eight of these fires were unable to be contained; they joined together to form the largest fire in Victoria since the Black Friday fires in 1939. More than 40 fires were also started in New South Wales and Australia Capital Territory.

The majority of the area burnt in Victoria was public land, 1.19 million hectares of parks and forests, including 60 per cent of the Alpine National Park and 81 per cent of the Mt Buffalo National Park. Fire fighting efforts were made difficult in hard to access, remote forest terrain. Approximately 90,000 hectares of private land was burnt. The fires burnt nearly 800,000 hectares in New South Wales and Australia Capital Territory, bringing the total of land affected throughout the Australian Alps to approximately 2 million hectares. The immediate effects of the fires included reduced water quality and quantity, loss of vegetation and habitats, destruction of commercial timber infrastructure, damage to recreation and tourism infrastructure assets and destruction of cultural sites and farms adjacent to public land.

A Ministerial Taskforce, appointed by the Victorian Premier, announced a funding package of $70.6 million for recovery works on public land associated with natural and cultural assets and support for agricultural private landowners affected by the fires. This was the biggest bushfire recovery effort ever undertaken in Victoria at the time. The Bushfire Recovery Program for the environment and agriculture focused on four areas:

1. Asset repair or replacement in parks, forests and alpine resorts ($24.9 million)

2. Protection and restoration of water catchments and water supply ($23.9 million)

3. Restoration of ecological and cultural heritage values ($13.2 million)

4. Providing practical assistance for affected farm enterprises ($8.6 million) Assets lost or damaged included; 41 houses, 213 other structures, three bridges and 10,000 livestock.

The Insurance Council of Australia estimated the 2003 damage for Victoria and New South Wales at $12 million, with the 2011 estimated normalised cost of $24 million.

Information Sources

Country Fire Authority, Major Fires, website viewed 15 August 2011
Department of Sustainability and Environment, Bushfire history – Major bushfires in Victoria, website viewed 15 August 2011
Department of Sustainability and Environment, The recovery story the 2003 Alpine fires, September 2005, website viewed 15 August 2011
Insurance Council of Australia, Historical disaster statistics, March 2012, website viewed 23 May 2012