South-eastern Australia, February 2017

Heatwave, south-eastern Australia, 2017

The summer of 2016-17 was characterised by protracted – at times, extreme – heat for much of south-eastern Australia. Sydney and Brisbane experienced record average January temperatures; in Canberra, daytime temperatures were the highest on record. Three distinct heatwaves occurred across January and February, with temperatures peaking from 9-12 February 2017.

Records set by the heat included:

  • Hottest February day for sites in South Australia and Queensland (February 9 and 12, respectively)
  • Second hottest February day in New South Wales (recorded at Walgett Airport)
  • Hottest* and second hottest February days (44 and 42.4 degrees Celsius, respectively) across New South Wales

*The second hottest day for any month in New South Wales, exceeded only by records from 14 January 1939.

On 12 February, catastrophic fire weather conditions prevailed across large parts of central New South Wales and the Hunter. Conditions were described as the worst-ever fire weather experienced in New South Wales.

A number of large fires soon broke out, including the Sir Ivan, White Cedars Road near Mudgee, Barnards Road at Gloucester, Pappinbarra Road near Wauchope and Spring Hill Road near Dongdingalong. Over 80 fires were burning in the state at one time with in excess of 2,500 firefighters engaged.

Considerable overall losses were experienced with a total of 70,106 hectares burned, 45 homes and over 150 other buildings destroyed. Despite the scale of the fires and severity of the weather, no lives were lost in these fires. New South Wales fire agencies had no requirement to call interstate assistance to help with fire suppression.



This incident was included in the Major Incidents Report 2016-17 (Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience, 2017). The report acknowledges the following sources:

ABC News, 'Carwoola fire: Firefighters contain blaze but 11 homes destroyed," 19 February 2017. At:
Bureau of Meteorology 2017, Special Climate Statement 61 — exceptional heat in southeast Australia in early 2017. At:
New South Wales Rural Fire Service 2017, 'Assessment of last week's fire affected areas completed,' media release, 18 February 2017. At:
New South Wales Rural Fire Service 2017, 'Initial assessment of Carwoola fire affected area,' media release, 18 February 2017. At:
New South Wales Rural Fire Service 2017, 'Bush fire season draws to a close,' media release, 31 March 2017. At: