The recirculation zone length behind a bluff body is influenced by the turbulence intensity at the base of the body in isothermal flows and also the heat release and its interaction with turbulence in reacting flows. This relationship is observed to be nonlinear and is controlled by the balance of forces acting on the recirculation zone, which arise from the pressure and turbulence fields. The pressure force is directly influenced by the volumetric expansion resulting from the heat release, whereas the change in the turbulent shear force depends on the nonlinear interaction between turbulence and combustion. This behaviour is elucidated through a control volume analysis. A scaling relation for the recirculation zone length is deduced to relate the turbulence intensity and the amount of heat release. This relation is verified using the large eddy simulation data from 20 computations of isothermal flows and premixed flames that are stabilised behind the bluff body. The application of this scaling to flames in an open environment and behind a backward facing step is also explored. The observations and results are explained on a physical basis.