Bushfire in Australia burns over 2 million acres, becoming a “gigafire”

Bushfire Broome, Western Australia
Bushfire south of Broome, Western Australia. Photo: Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

A bushfire that started October 11 in Western Australia 120km southeast of Broome burned 880,000 hectares, or 2,174,527 acres. Dry winds from variable directions and high temperatures made it very difficult to suppress. The remote location and a lack of water restricted the tactics to fighting fire with fire, constructing firelines with heavy equipment, and using aircraft.

When the wind direction changed last week, firefighters had to shut down the Great Northern Highway, National Route 1.

bushfire Western Australia
Satellite photo of bushfire in Western Australia, October 15, 2018. NASA.

When we coined the term “megafire” for wildfires that exceed 100,000 acres, it was in the back of our mind that if a fire reached 1 million acres it would be called a “gigafire”.

In spite of the enormous size of the blaze in Western Australia there were no fatalities or damage to major structures.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) urged residents at Thangoo Homestead, Barn Hill Station, and Eco Beach last Tuesday to evacuate or actively defend their property.

DFES West Kimberley area officer Ben Muller said there were approximately 100 personnel fighting the fire.

The city of Broome was given the all clear Thursday morning.

Below is an excerpt from an article at TheWest.com:

Thangoo Station manager Rex McCormack said about half of the pastoral station was burnt but people and livestock were unscathed and water tanks and other important assets were undamaged.

“It is one of the biggest fires I remember from the last 10 years, but we felt safe in staying and defending the property,” he said.

“I didn’t feel scared in staying, I would have been more worried about that damage that could have occurred if I wasn’t there and it was more about being a resource to DFES.

“We were out back burning the property until about 1am last Wednesday, then up again at 6am.

Bushfire Broome, Western Australia
Bushfire south of Broome, Western Australia. Photo: Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

(UPDATED November 2, 2018)

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

2 thoughts on “Bushfire in Australia burns over 2 million acres, becoming a “gigafire””

  1. When I visited Australia’s Northern Territory south of Darwin in the mid-1990, the Fire Management Officer on the Kakadu National Park had just 2 firefighting tools in the back of his “Ute” (an Aussie term for a Utility truck): both were drip torches. The country is huge, people are scarce, and fire is part of their landscape.

  2. I think was of the most surprising takeaways from this article is that fact that there are only about 100 people actively fighting this fire. In the United States we’ll see up to thousands of fire fighters on fires that are 100,000+ acres. Obviously there is a huge variance in the terrain and fuel types between Aus and the US that determine staffing needs and tactics, but look at the Substation fire from earlier this year. The Substation was around 1/25th the size of this fire in Aus and was burning in somewhat similar fuel types but was staffed by around 300 firefighters at its peak. I would be interested to learn about how many firefighters there are in Aus and what the management looks like there.

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