Australian Institute of Criminology

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Understanding bushfire : trends in deliberate vegetation fires in Australia

Technical and background paper no. 27

Colleen Bryant
ISBN 978 1 921185 62 5 ISSN 1445-7261
Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, January 2008

Abstract

Australia is the most fire-prone continent and country on Earth. While fire is an essential component of many ecosystems, a natural instrument for maintaining biodiversity and hence a tool that enables many species to survive, not all fires are natural or beneficial. Humans play a significant role in modifying the timing, frequency and size of bushfires, in some cases to the detriment of the environment and to the endangerment of property and human life. While some human-caused fires are for the purposes of managing the environment, protecting human life and property, or the result of accidental actions, many fires occur through negligence, carelessness, mischievousness, or outright maliciousness, with little regard for either the environment or people who might be adversely affected. It is this latter group of fires - herein referred to as deliberate ignitions - that forms the central theme of this report. This report represents the first concerted effort to document the number, size and distribution of potentially illegal fires lit in vegetation in Australia. The report is based on vegetation fire data supplied by a large number of fire agencies across Australia. It is technical in nature, which reflects the fact that in many instances the information provided by fire services is, in itself, complex. The report provides a basis for guiding research and policies adopted by fire agencies, other researchers and interested individuals. It forms the basis for a number of smaller publications that summarise the key findings of the document.