New South Wales and ACT, December 2001

Bushfire - Black Christmas

Quick Statistics

$69 million Insurance Costs
109 Homes Destroyed

From 24 December 2001, more than 100 fires burned through parts of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. The fires began in the Cessnock, Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury and Penrith areas. The fires lasted for approximately 23 days and required over 20,000 regular and volunteer firefighters as well as 85 aircraft. The worst fires were in the Huskisson / Sussex Inlet area near Jervis Bay in the Illawarra, and the Deua National Park west of Moruya.

There was extreme weather conditions across all affected areas during this time. These included temperatures up to 45º C, winds of 90 km per hour and very low humidity which resulted in very high level of fire danger.

Twenty-six bushfire emergency declarations were made, incorporating the 48 local government areas of Blue Mountains / Lithgow / Rylstone, Cessnock / Wyong, Hawkesbury, Kempsey, Mudgee, Oberon / Mulwarree, Richmond Valley / Maclean, Shoalhaven / Tallaganda, Gosford, Penrith / Fairfield / Blacktown / Liverpool, Singleton / Muswellbrook, Sutherland, Wollondilly / Campbelltown / Wingecarribee, Wollongong / Kiama / Shellharbour, Baulkham Hills / Hornsby / Ku-ring-gai / Ryde / Lane Cove, Grafton / Pristine Waters / Maclean / Copmanhurst, Eurobodalla, Warringah / Pittwater, Narrabri, Kempsey, Cabonne, Coffs Harbour, Richmond Valley, Greater Taree, Kempsey and Walcha.

The fires burnt approximately 753,314 hectares, destroyed 109 houses and damaged a further 40. They also destroyed 433 outbuildings, 222 vehicles, and 7043 stock and 33 commercial and industrial buildings. Vast stretches of forests were destroyed, including more than 60 per cent of the Royal National Park, and more than 510 hectares of pine plantation valued at several million dollars in the Australian Capital Territory. The smoke and smog from the fire caused the Environmental Protection Authority to record the worst ever air pollution in Sydney on 28 December.

Although major fire activity ended on 7 January, operations continued until 11 January. More than 11,000 people were evacuated from their homes, but there were no deaths or major injuries.

An estimated 20,000 properties were saved and the cost of operations was estimated at $106 million.

The Insurance Council of Australia estimated the 2001 damage at $69 million, with the 2011 estimated normalised cost of $131 million.

Information sources

ACT Rural Fire Service, History of bushfires, 6 September 2011, website viewed 3 May 2012
Bureau of Meteorology, Significant weather January 2002, website viewed 3 May 2012
Council of Australian Government, National bushfire inquiry appendix D Fire History in Australia, 2 April 2004, p 342, website viewed 3 May 2012
Fire and Rescue NSW, Christmas 2001/2002 bushfires, website viewed 3 May 2012
Geoscience Australia, New South Wales bushfires 2001-02, website viewed 30 May 2011
Halperin D 2002, 'Black Christmas: In Australia, a year-end wildfire destroyed homes, killed wildlife and burned nearly 2 million acres. The effects and what to do next are still being decided', American Forests, summer, p 1, website viewed 3 May 2012
Insurance Council of Australia, Historical disaster statistics, 2012, website viewed 3 May 2012
NSW Parliament Joint Select Committee on Bushfires, Report into the 2001/2002 bushfires, June 2002, website viewed 3 May 2012
NSW Rural Fire Service, Bushfire bulletin commemorative edition – Christmas fires 2001, p 2, website viewed 8 May 2012