Image: Gary Hayes
Smoke billows near Blackheath, a City of Blue Mountains town.
Hot, dry weather coupled with particularly flammable vegetation makes bushfires a common occurrence in Australia. Eucalyptus leaves, which litter the forest floors, are full of flammable oil, making them ideal burning material. In the past, indigenous Australians are believed to have taken part in regular controlled burnings to keep this natural fuel from accumulating.
Fires burn in the hills around the town of Lithgow.
Since the arrival of Europeans in Australia, however, the controlled burning has decreased, and this has allowed bush land to build up more of its natural fuel. As a result, fires have become stronger and more devastating – and this is particularly problematic when the weather is hotter and drier than usual, as it was in 2013.
Image: Mark Hodges
A controlled section of the State Mine fire burns around Mt. York.
The October 2013 fires that tore through New South Wales – including the Blue Mountains – are said to have been the worst in half a century. The preceding month of September was unusually hot; indeed, it was the warmest ever recorded in the state. Added to this were the powerful winds that blew through New South Wales, spreading the blazes like giant bellows. In the town of Springwood, temperatures topped out at 94.3 °F (34.6 °C) and winds blew as hard as 29 mph (46 km/h).