In the present study, we quantify the vorticity interactions in a bluff body stabilized turbulent combustor during the transition from combustion noise to thermoacoustic instability via intermittency using complex networks. To that end, we perform simultaneous acoustic pressure, high-speed particle image velocimetry (PIV) and high-speed chemiluminescence measurements during the occurrence of combustion noise, intermittency and thermoacoustic instability. Based on the Biot-Savart law, we construct time-varying weighted spatial networks from the flow fields during these different regimes of combustor operation. We uncover that the turbulent networks display weighted scale-free behaviour intermittently during the different regimes of combustor operation, with the strong vortical structures acting as the hubs. Further, we discover two optimal locations for injecting steady air jets to successfully suppress the thermoacoustic oscillations. The amplitude of the acoustic pressure fluctuations of the suppressed state is comparable to that during the occurrence of combustion noise. However, the weighted scale-free network topology during the suppressed state is not as dominant as compared with the state of combustion noise. © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Cambridge University Press.