Understanding Bushfires and its Key Drivers


A vast majority of the population remains alien to bushfires and their subsequent impacts on the ecosystem and livelihood in general. To some, it's an annual reality that takes place in some parts of the globe. Whereas, scientific scholars are collecting pieces of evidence to explain to people how devastating the inferno could influence them both physically and mentally.

The entire world watched in grief when the series of wildfires engulfed the grounds of Australia, the rainforest in South America, and California. Wildfires are often triggered naturally due to lightning. However, in most cases, it's human-induced actions that contribute to the larger share of it. Bushfires occur when there is sufficient dry fuel to burn. On top of that, favorable weather conditions such as dry, hot, and windy heat exacerbate the ignition to an uncontrollable level. ‘Black Saturday bushfire’ is one such event that shook the whole world. It was a series of the devastating bushfire that hit the state of Victoria on Saturday, 7 Feb 2009. To this date, it's considered as one of the darkest days of Australia's keystone history as 173 people perished and over 2000 homes were destroyed. It's not just the humans that suffer but also the biodiversity hotspots are in grave danger of vanishing. Therefore, it is highly imperative to lead a discussion on the factors that lead up to such catastrophes and the ways to subdue the growing trend of bushfires.  

As we all know, the three components such as heat, fuel, and oxygen (also known as fire triangle) are indispensable factors to trigger ignition. However, many other factors contribute to bushfires namely; fuel loading and moisture, speed of the wind, temperature and humidity, the slope of the landscape, and source of ignition.

Now let us look into the factors that exacerbate ignition.

  • Fuel Loading- Fuel load refers to the materials available for a fire to burn which include fallen bark, leaf litter, and fallen branches.

  • Speed of the Wind- Speed of the blowing wind is one of the most important factors to consider while examining the ignition rate. Wind increases the amount of oxygen required for bushfires to spread. During a bushfire, higher wind speed will increase the rate at which the burning will occur. However, studies have shown that wind speed below 12 km/hr. (7.5 mph) with heavy fuel load will burn slowly.

  • Temperature and Humidity- The bushfires are more likely to happen in areas that experience high temperatures with dry nature. However, a more humid atmosphere is likely to discourage burning.

  • The slope of Land- It is said that fire burns much faster uphill than downhill. A 10-degree increase in slope usually results in doubling the speed of the fire.

  • Source of Ignition- Lightening is one of the prominent reasons for bushfires. However, deliberate and accidental human actions have also resulted in severe fire outbreaks such as falling trees landing on overhead powerlines, burning of agriculture lands, cigarettes that are flicked carelessly in dry grassland, and embers from campfires that are not extinguished properly can cause bushfires.


The studied impacts of Bushfires

  • Physical impacts include injuries and health hazards. The smoke inhalation and chemical exposure lead to headaches, as well as digestive, and cardiovascular issues. It is to be noted that children are the most vulnerable section of the population during a fire outbreak.

  • Environmental impacts- Bushfires are primarily responsible for the loss of biodiversity and disruption of ecological balance. In addition to this, it leads to water contamination and the extinction of a variety of species. Smoke generated from the burning fire results in exacerbating air pollution.

  • Socio-economic impacts- In Australia, bushfires have reportedly caused over (AUD) $10 billion in damages leaving behind a massive economic disruption. The trade, business, communication, and transportation systems have experienced a shocking depletion in terms of mobility.

  • Psychosocial impacts- It involves emotional (shock, anger), cognitive (tension, nightmares), and physical stress imbalances (anxiety attack). Apart from this, frequent bushfire events leave behind severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the victims. It results in anxiety, heatstroke, depression, fatigue, feeling of fear, and hopelessness.

Pragmatic strategies to subdue the impact of bushfires

There are numerous proven ways to contain and extinguish bushfires. Studies and researches reveal that different vegetation responds differently to wildfires which in turn affects the magnitude of its impact. Therefore, there isn't any general thumb rule to overcome the inferno. However, creating a pre-established survival plan is crucial to confront any further outbreaks. More fire explosions can be controlled by firefighters applying water to the flame. In some cases, fuel breaks are constructed using hand tools such as rakes and hoe.

  • Backburning is another proven strategy to mitigate the explosion. The indigenous communities in Australia perform this operation more often to contain the fire. As part of the process, fuel sections in its path are deliberately burned so that no flammable material is left to support combustion.

  • Water bombing is one of the most common techniques employed during a larger outbreak. Generally, airplanes and helicopters are used for firefighting by dropping large quantities of water on a fire.

  • Devising a solid household plan is essential to developing key resistance during bushfires. Having a sound household strategy gives you a better chance of surviving the catastrophe.

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There are a few ideal steps to consider while formulating a household strategy. 

  • Step 1- Have an open discussion with your family members what if a bushfire threatens your home, will you leave early or decide to stay and defend?

  • Step 2- Start preparing your home to tackle a bushfire. Create fences and keep the grasses short.

  • Step 3- Always keep a track of the bushfire alert levels. For instance, listen to service providers like fire managers and radio station advisory units and also follow their instructions carefully before it's too late.

  • Step 4- Make sure to update yourself with the necessary support information and service provider numbers or website links.


Bushfires cannot be stopped with immediate effect since it occurs naturally. However, the disruptive impacts can be subdued. To make this happen, we must develop a deeper understanding of what factors make people and other living entities vulnerable to such catastrophes. This will enable our policymakers to reflect on swift decisions and execute those into game-changing actions. Traditional land management practices and risk mitigation strategies should be promoted among the public. In short, collaborative effort and public awareness can alleviate the impact of this catastrophe to a great level.


  1. https://www.science.org.au/curious/bushfires

  2. Bushfires: Response, Relief and Resilience online course by Future Learn

Author details

Shelton Sibi

B.Sc. (Hons) Agriculture

Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology, and Sciences. Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

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