Black Summer - how the NSW community responded to the 2019-20 bushfire season | Natural Hazards Research Australia

Black Summer - how the NSW community responded to the 2019-20 bushfire season

Research for the NSW Rural Fire Service

Research theme

Learning from disasters

Publication type


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Author Josh Whittaker , Kat Haynes , Carrie Wilkinson , Matalena Tofa , Tasmin Dilworth , Tasmin Dilworth , Jessica Collins , Lillian Tait , Stephanie Samson

The 2019-20 bushfire season saw unprecedented, destructive bushfires across New South Wales (NSW). After an early start to the fire season in August 2019, fires spread south from the Queensland border to the Victorian border over the course of spring and summer. Tens of thousands of people were displaced by the fires, including residents, tourists and visitors to affected areas. Significant rainfall in early February 2020 helped contain the fires by February 13 and brought an end to the most deadly and destructive fire season in NSW history. Tragically, 26 people lost their lives in the fires, including four NSW RFS volunteers and three US aerial firefighters. Many more people were affected by smoke, including in regional areas and major population centres such as the north coast, Sydney, Canberra, Newcastle and Wollongong. By season’s end, fires had burned a record 5.5 million hectares of NSW and destroyed 2,448 homes (NSW RFS 2020). Community and commercial buildings and infrastructure were also significantly impacted on. The fires adversely affected many industries, including agriculture, forestry and tourism.

The NSW RFS engaged the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre to conduct research into community preparedness, warnings and responses to the 2019-20 NSW bushfires. The NSW RFS identified eight key themes for investigation, including: (i) risk communication; (ii) effect of prolonged and repeated exposure to bushfire on planning, preparation and responses; (iii) effect of previous experience and exposure to bushfire on planning, preparation and responses; (iv) sheltering practices; (v) experiences of tourists and visitors; (vi) awareness and attitudes toward bushfire risk reduction; (vii) building standards; and (viii) community recovery and resilience.

This report presents findings from research into community attitudes and experiences of the 2019-20 bushfire season undertaken for the NSW RFS. The NSW RFS Statement of Work identified the following themes and questions for investigation:

  • Risk communication
  • Effect of prolonged and/or repeated exposure to bushfire
  • Effect of previous experiences and exposure to bushfire
  • Sheltering practices
  • Experience of tourists and visitors
  • Awareness and attitudes toward bushfire risk reduction activities
  • Building standards
  • Community recover and resilience
Year of Publication
Date Published
Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC
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Related projects

Community attitudes and experiences of the 2019/20 NSW bushfire season