The energy intensity of bushfires

3 min

Being a firefighter in Australia is one of the toughest jobs in the world, especially during a potentially record breaking summer.

As Australians, we’re all acutely aware of the destructive power of the bushfires that affect most parts of the country each summer (and often in wintertime in the Northern Territory). Our climate is a predominately hot and dry one, prone to significant periods of drought, and many of Australia’s native plants and trees are very combustible.

These factors combine, unfortunately, to create the ideal conditions for bushfires and our courageous professional and volunteer firefighters work tirelessly, at great personal risk, to contain the fires and protect lives, property and pivotal electricity assets (bushfires can have a significant impact on electricity supply reliability)

But when you consider the ferocity of these blazes, and the energy intensity they produce, you can only admire the work our fireys do even more.

According to the Australian Academy of Science, the intensity of a bushfire is described in terms of the number of kilowatts of energy released per metre of the fire front. A controlled hazard-reduction fire usually releases less than 500 kilowatts per metre of energy, while an extreme bushfire can generate more than 100,000 kilowatts (the same amount as a medium sized electricity generating unit) per metre.

These figures are truly staggering and give some indication of the daunting challenges our firefighters are up against. The energy produced by these fires even have their own suppression strategies, as Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions demonstrates in the below points and graphic:

  • Fire intensity less than 800 kW/m can be suppressed with hand tools with water support as a direct attack
  • Fire intensity less than 2000 kW/m can be suppressed by machines, tankers and water bombers as a direct attack
  • Fire intensity greater than 2000 kW/m may be suppressed by machines, tankers and water bombers using an indirect attack
  • Fire intensity greater than 3000 kW/m is unlikely to be suppressed

All states plan extensively for worst case scenarios during summer, such as bushfires, extended heatwaves, and storms. We have prepared a list of relevant authorities and their websites here should you have any questions. Stay safe!

Please also visit the CFA website to find out how you can support your local fireys and the great work they do for our communities.

To get all the latest newsinsights and analysis from the Australian energy industry subscribe to our fortnightly newsletter at the bottom of the page and download the new Energy Live app on Apple and Android.

*Fire intensity graphic used with kind permission of the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions. 

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