Victoria’s bushfire threat

According to the Victorian State Bushfire Plan
2014
, and Emergency Risks in Victoria 2014 bushfire is a significant risk facing the State.

The future bushfire risk is increasing due to two primary reasons: increase in population in the highest risk areas of the rural-urban interface; and increased summer heat and dryness associated with climate change.

Drawing of family and house shape superimposed on Victoria map

Bushfires can be ignited in many ways. Some are natural and can’t be prevented (for example, lightning strikes), others are caused by humans. A combination of factors leads to the high risk of bushfires in Victoria, including:

  • large areas of highly flammable dry eucalypt forest
  • expanses of highly flammable grassland
  • a climate pattern of mild, moist winters followed by hot dry summers
  • long droughts
  • agricultural practices that include the use of fire
  • large numbers of people living in bushfire-prone areas, such as in the rural-urban fringe.

A history of bushfires

Three extremely damaging bushfire events in more recent years in Victoria include, the 1983 ‘Ash Wednesday’ fire, the 2009 ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires and the December 2019 to February 2020 bushfires. All resulted in significant loss of life, destruction of houses and other buildings, as well as severe impacts on regional economies.

Watch a CFA video which describes the circumstances of the 1939, 1983 and 2009 fires and fire behaviour

Other major bushfires in recent years have included the 2003 Alpine Fire, 2006 Grampians Fire, the 2006/7 Great Divide fire.

For a chronology of major bushfires in Victoria from 2013 back to 1851 visit Forest Fire Management's page on past bushfires.

Planning and building and other government responses

Severe bushfire events in Victoria have been the triggers for major changes to government policy and strategies to support community resilience.  This includes reforms to planning and building systems where there is risk to life, property and community infrastructure.  

Past bushfire inquiries and initiatives and their key planning and building responses include:

The Royal Commission into the 1939 bushfires recommended that sawmills be directed away from extreme forested environments and into settlements, a recommendation that was implemented.

The 1983 Ash Wednesday Bushfires initiated research which informed the introduction of Victoria's first bushfire specific planning tool, the Wildfire Management Overlay.

In 2002 the Council of Australian Governments concluded that land use planning which considers natural hazard risks is the single most important mitigation measure in preventing future disaster losses in areas of new development.

The Royal Commission into the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires resulted in comprehensive bushfire hazard mapping in both the planning and building system, improvement in the way the planning and building systems work together to manage bushfire risk and introduced the Bushfire Management Overlay.

The tragic event of the Black Saturday bushfires of 7 February 2009 has left a legacy on the lives of many Victorians and have spurred action on the way our planning and building systems support community resilience to bushfire today and into the future.  

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission (VBRC) was established to investigate the causes and responses to the bushfires and how we might be able to reduce the risks of such a disaster happening again.

The Commission’s recommendations prioritise protecting human life. Governments, fire agencies, communities and individuals have shared responsibility for reducing the chance of a tragedy like Black Saturday ever happening again.

The Victorian Government accepted all the Royal Commission’s recommendations, of which nearly one third of the VRBC recommendations related to the planning and building systems.

The progressive implementation of policies following the VBRC has enabled further improvements to the planning and building systems.  This includes the introduction of streamlined bushfire planning provisions for existing settlements, as well as land use initiatives in State planning policy to strengthen strategic settlement planning.

Page last updated: 07/08/20