Australia’s bushfire danger rating system updated after more than 60 years

A man standing in a dry, golden field watching dark bushfire smoke in the distance

Nicola Dowse

Posted September 05, 2022

Fire danger rating signs across Victoria will get a much-needed facelift for the first time in 60 years as part of a nation-wide change to improve accuracy and community understanding of fire ratings. 

This summer is going to look a little different. After more than six decades, Australia’s bushfire danger rating system is being updated to reflect current scientific analysis, improve accuracy, and clarity.

The new system, known as the Australian Fire Danger Rating System (AFDRS), rolls out from September 1, 2022, with the same system and signs across the nation. 

“This is a major change to the way fire danger ratings will be calculated and communicated to our Victorian communities,” says Country Fire Authority (CFA) Chief Officer, Jason Heffernan.

“Our objective is for Victorians to better understand what actions to take at each fire danger level, and that’s why this new system will be reduced to just four simple ratings and use clear recommendations for how to protect yourself according to your bushfire risk.”

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Australia’s recognisable fire danger rating road signs will also be updated nationwide to reflect the new system. In Victoria, these updates will begin in the areas most at risk of bushfires from September 1.

You will also see the new system used online to communicate fire danger advice, and Victorians can keep abreast of current fire danger ratings via the VicEmergency website and app.

Visit the CFA website for more information.

Why do we have a fire rating system? 

Australia has been using fire danger rating systems as early as the 1950s when forester A.G. McArthur developed a rating system after studying how fires behaved with different fuels and weather conditions. 

These systems exist to inform residents of at-risk areas of the potential level of danger if a bushfire were to start. It’s important to note that the ratings don’t predict the likelihood a bushfire starting.  


The new Australian Fire Danger Rating System, showing four levels; moderate, high, extreme and catastrophic

The new, four-level Australian Fire Danger Rating System is designed to be easier to understand. Photo: Supplied.

The new Australian Fire Danger Rating System

This new AFDRS system was devised largely by the NSW Rural Fire Service and the Bureau of Meteorology using the most recent information known about weather, vegetation and fire behaviour across different landscapes. 

For example, the old system only accounted for two types of vegetation when calculating fire ratings. In comparison, the AFDRS accounts for eight vegetation types (grassland, forest, grassy woodland, spinifex, shrubland, Mallee heath, buttongrass, and pine), thus improving the ability to predict how a fire might behave – and the risk it poses should it ignite. 

Importantly, the AFDRS has been designed so that it can be updated as scientists learn more about fire behaviour.  

There are also four levels in the AFDRS system, two less than the previous six-level system. 

Following the third-largest market survey ever conducted in Australia, it was found that the old system was not widely understood by the public and the simpler, more concise AFDRS system aims to improve comprehension so that people can better protect themselves and their communities. 

The four new levels used in the AFDRS are: 

  • Moderate 

  • High

  • Extreme

  • Catastrophic

Each level provides advice to residents about how to protect themselves under specific conditions.


The old fire danger rating system sign, showing six levels

Victoria's old, six-level fire danger rating signs will begin being replaced from September 1, 2022. Photo: Getty.


Moderate: Plan and prepare 

During this stage fires can generally be contained if they break out. Keep informed and be ready to act should it be required.

High: Be ready to act 

Fires that ignite are potentially dangerous and you must be alert for fires in your area. You should decide what you will do if a fire does start, keeping in mind the safest option is to avoid bushfire risk areas if possible. 

Extreme: Take action now to protect life and property 

Under an ‘extreme’ rating fires will spread quickly and are very dangerous. Make sure your property and bushfire plan are ready. In the event of fire, you must act immediately – that means leaving your property for a safer location well ahead (early in the day is safest) of fire impact if your property is not prepared to the highest level.

You should reconsider travelling into areas at risk of bushfire. 

Catastrophic: For your survival, leave bush fire risk areas

This is the highest level of fire danger. If a fire ignites and takes hold under catastrophic conditions, then lives and property will likely be lost.  

Do not enter bushfire risk areas. Your life and that of your family may depend on the decisions you make, even before a fire starts. 

The safest option under catastrophic conditions is to leave for a safer location either early in the morning or the night before. Houses are not able to withstand fires under these conditions; you may not be able to leave if a fire starts and help may not be able to reach you.  

Regardless of the fire danger rating, you should always monitor conditions, adhere to any current fire restrictions and take immediate action if a fire starts near you.

What does the white box mean? 

You might have noticed that the new fire rating system and signs features a thin white, rectangular box underneath the ‘moderate’ level.

When the sign’s arrow points to this box it, means no fire danger rating has been issued. 


A smoky yellow sky above houses in the bush

It's important to prepare yourself and your property for the annual Fire Danger Period. Photo: Getty.

Protecting your property from bushfire 

Preparation is key to protecting yourself, your community and your property during the annual Fire Danger Period (which, depending weather conditions and your municipality, can begin as early as October and run as late as May). 

Residents and those travelling into or through bushfire-prone areas should stay informed using the VicEmergency website or app, or tuning into ABC local radio.

It’s also vital to have a Bushfire Survival Plan that your entire household is familiar with, and that your property is maintained – that means clearing excess vegetation, gutters, and removing flammable stockpiles (like firewood) away from your home.  

The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Products issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Ltd ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.