We study the evolution of a localized perturbation in a chemical system with multiple homogeneous steady states, in the presence of stirring by a fluid flow. Two distinct regimes are found as the rate of stirring is varied relative to the rate of the chemical reaction. When the stirring is fast localized perturbations decay towards a spatially homogeneous state. When the stirring is slow (or fast reaction) localized perturbations propagate by advection in form of a filament with a roughly constant width and exponentially increasing length. The width of the filament depends on the stirring rate and reaction rate but is independent of the initial perturbation. We investigate this problem numerically in both closed and open flow systems and explain the results using a one-dimensional “mean-strain” model for the transverse profile of the filament that captures the interplay between the propagation of the reaction–diffusion front and the stretching due to chaotic advection.