Community safety during the 2009 Australian 'Black Saturday' bushfires

an analysis of household preparedness and response

Joshua Whittaker*, Katharine Haynes, John Handmer, Jim McLennan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

89 Citations (Scopus)


On Saturday 7 February 2009, 173 people lost their lives and more than 2000 houses were destroyed in bushfires (wildfires) in the Australian State of Victoria. The scale of life and property loss raised fundamental questions about community bushfire safety in Australia, in particular the appropriateness of the 'Prepare, stay and defend or leave early' policy. This paper presents findings from research undertaken as part of the Australian Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre's (CRC) '2009 Victorian Bushfires Research Taskforce'. The research examined factors influencing patterns of life and property loss and survival across the fires through mail surveys (n≤1314) of fire affected households. Just over half of the respondents (53%) stayed to defend their homes and properties, whereas the remainder left before or when the fires arrived (43%) or sheltered in a house, structure, vehicle, or outside (4%). Results reveal a survival rate of 77% for houses that were defended by one or more household members, compared to 44% for unattended houses. The paper identifies inadequate planning and preparedness and the tendency for people to wait until they are directly threatened before taking action as major factors leading to late evacuation, failed defence and passive shelter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-849
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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