Australia // Victoria //

Black Saturday bushfires

February 7, 2009 will be forever etched on most Victorians’ minds as the start of Australia’s worst bushfires in history. “Black Saturday”, as it is known, killed over 170 people and thousands of animals, destroyed over a million acres of bushland, wiped out townships and left 7500 homeless. The state’s worst affected areas were northeast of Melbourne in the Kinglake and Yea–Murrindindi regions, encompassing Marysville, Toolangi, Kinglake, Kinglake West, Strathewen, Steels Creek, Narbethong and Flowerdale. In the Gippsland region, southeast of Melbourne, a fire was started deliberately in Churchill and quickly spread to Callignee, Traralgon South, the Otways, Horsham, Coleraine, Dargo, Bendigo and Beechworth. Fires also destroyed thousands of acres of bushland in Wilsons Promontory.

Residents in Victoria’s southeast were told to prepare for extreme conditions the day before; temperatures exceeding 47°C and winds of up to 120km/h were predicted, combined with tinder-dry land due to the previous week’s heatwave and long-term drought. Many of the places devastated were set in hilly, forested country, including the picturesque village of Marysville. Established in 1863, with a population of just over 500, Marysville had experienced many bushfires during its 146-year history, but none like that in February, which killed one in five residents and reduced the town to ashes. To the west, flames moving at over 100km/h swept through the small hamlet of Kinglake so quickly that people didn’t even know they were in danger. Many fires continued to blaze out of control for over a month afterwards, and national parks in the area, including Kinglake and Yarra Ranges, were closed to visitors.