Australian bushfire fatalities 1900-2008: exploring trends in relation to the 'Prepare, stay and defend or leave early' policy

Katharine Haynes*, John Handmer, John McAneney, Amalie Tibbits, Lucinda Coates

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

158 Citations (Scopus)


In many jurisdictions, including parts of the US, authorities often dictate mandatory evacuations of communities threatened by bushfire (wildfire). Prior to the 2009 'Black Saturday' fires in Victoria, Australian fire authorities in all States advised residents to decide whether they would prepare to stay and defend homes or leave early. The clear intent of that policy was to avoid late evacuations and the risks to life that this could entail. This study re-examines evidence underpinning this policy using analyses of a database of bushfire fatalities. The database contains information on 552 civilian (non-fire fighter) fatalities obtained from print media archives at Risk Frontiers and forensic, witness and police statements contained within coronial inquest reports for all bushfire fatalities between 1901 and 2008. This data, compiled before the Black Saturday fires, clearly show the dangers of being caught outside during a bushfire and the gendered division of the circumstances of these deaths. While men have been most often killed outside while attempting to protect assets, most female and child fatalities occurred while sheltering in the house or attempting to flee. The database provides a benchmark against which the Black Saturday experience can be examined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-194
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2010


  • wildfire
  • wildland-urban interface
  • fatalities
  • community safety
  • policy


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