How Australia's bushfires spread: mapping the NSW and Queensland fires

Nick Evershed and Andy Ball
Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP

It has been a devastating spring in Australia for bushfires, with millions of hectares burned, lives lost and hundreds of properties destroyed.

In November, long-term drought conditions combined with strong winds to create ‘catastrophic’ fire conditions on the east coast of Australia.

However, it is hard to grasp the geographic scale and speed with which the fires spread. For example, there are at least two current fire grounds west of Port Macquarie that are both over 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) in size, and at least 1m hectares have been burnt in northern New South Wales this year so far.

One way to visualise the extent and spread of the fires is by using satellite data – in particular, Nasa operates a hotspot detection program which identifies fires on a daily basis.

Here, we’ve animated the hotspots over time. It’s not exactly to scale, as the satellite detection has a resolution of 1km square, and it’s possible for fires to be obscured from satellite by smoke or clouds. Hotspots can also show up where there isn’t a bushfire for other reasons, but we’ve tried to filter these out where possible.

The circles fade to black over time to give an idea of the area burned, but it’s worth pointing out that it only covers fires within the time period shown, so the actual burned area will be greater than what is shown here, particularly in areas where fires have been burning on and off for months.

Mid-north coast NSW

Showing the fires burning around coastal towns such as Port Macquarie and Forster and fires burning further west closer to Tamworth.

mid north coast fires

Northern NSW and Qld

Further north, bushfires have encircled the region around Grafton, destroying homes and other properties in small towns such as Nymboida, Busbys Flat, and Drake, where two people died in October.

north coast and gold coast fires

Sydney region, NSW

The Gospers Mountain fire near Colo Heights has burned at least 164,100 hectares, while smaller fires have broken out in the Blue Mountains.

sydney region

Brisbane and Toowoomba regions, Qld

In the area around Brisbane and Toowoomba, fire has swept through the Pechey state forest, destroying homes in the town of Crows Nest. Bushfires are also burning on Moreton Island.

Brisbane and toowoomba regions