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2002 Bushfire Season


In NSW, between the dates 27 September 2002 and 24 February 2003 (151 days) 1.46 million hectares were destroyed. The fires started in the north eastern most tip of NSW in September 2002 and spread to the south eastern tip of the state by February 2003. NSW had the most devastating season out of all the states and territories.

The NSW Rural Fire Service deployed a Task Force from different parts of the state to fight the fires in 3 day brackets. In 151 days, 485 Task Forces were called which included the use of 11,836 RFS officers. At the worst part of these fires, 53 multi agency task forces were called in one day. In addition to the firefighters, 180 personnel from all agencies across the state were assigned the duty Incident Controllers, 6,698 RFS officers were used as Incident Management Teams (IMT’s). Because of the devastation of these fires NSW required some assistance from interstate agencies.

When the fires started to get out of control, the Rural Fire Service used 103 aircraft. 80% of the aircraft were Rotary Wing and 20% were Fixed Wing.

Fighting the fires proved difficult as there were hundreds of injuries and 3 people died fighting the fires. The usual injuries that required treatment were:


In Queensland, between July 2002 and June 2003 2,618 fires burned over 1 million hectares where the largest fire destroyed 200,000 hectares

South Australia

During the 2002 – 2003 season, the South Australian Country Fire Service were deployed to 34 forest fires, 677 scrub and grass fires, and 706 grass and stubble fires. The area destroyed was close to 50,000 hectares. This is more than double the torched land in the 2000 – 01 fires. Most of the fires which occurred in SA, were put out on the same day that they started, but there were numerous fires that lasted a maximum of 7 days (1 whole week). During this season, just over 36,000 personnel were called and just over 6,000 appliances were used to fight these fires. The CFS used aerial bombers at 87 fires.

Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory, during the 2002 – 2003 fire season, in the latter part of 2002 between August and November fires which had multiple causes destroyed 15 million hectares. The fires had a few key causes but 1 big contributing factor was the fact that NT had a drought from February to November 2002.


Between 2002 – 2003 bushfires torched 54,000 hectares of grass and forests in Tasmania. The longest fire lasted four weeks.


During the 2002 – 2003 season 843 wildfires burnt 1.35 million hectares. The most significant fire was a fire which lasted 59 days from 8 January to 7 March 2003 which became the worst fire since 1939 which destroyed 1.5 million hectares. This fire was the second major fire in the Grampians National Park in a matter of years.

For all rural bushfires in Victoria, 3 agencies are used to manage the fires and they are:

The CFA is solely responsible for fire suppression on public land which spans 15 million hectares.

When these fires started to get out of control, more than 6,000 firefighters from Victoria and interstate and other countries were used as well as 81 fire tankers, and 46 aircraft were used in which two thirds were fixed wing and the rest were helicopters.

These fires resulted in one death of a DSE officer.

The fires burned:

Western Australia

The bushfires during 2002 – 2003 in WA in the southern half of the state were one of the most severe in 42 years. 656 fires burnt a total of 2.11 million hectares of land which was managed by Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) 1.15 million hectares were destroyed in other crown lands, 0.53 million hectares were destroyed in National Parks, 0.16 million hectares were destroyed in nature reserves and 0.15 million hectares were destroyed on private property.

The cost of extinguishing the fires on the conservation zones in WA costed $12.3 million.

CALM assigned 6 Fixed Wing Bombers and Fire and Emergency Services of Western Australia assigned 2 helicopters. The land which was saved with the use of these aircraft tallies to $10.6 million.