Major bushfires in south-east Australia:
- Feb 7th/8th:
- "Black Saturday"
- following a record 3 days straight of temperatures above 43degC, Victoria suffered its most ferocious and tragic
bushfires which suddenly roared to life after midday on Melbourne's
hottest day on record when temperatures reached 46.4 degC in the CBD and
47.9deg C at nearby Avalon, while winds of 90-100kph fanned the flames
forcing fires to traverse 1.5km in 5min leaving last minute escape
impossible for many.
- over 2000 homes were lost, 173 people died and millions of animals
- Marysville, Kinglake, and Strathewen townships were devastated.
- see my blog here.
- followed Victoria's 15th lowest annual rainfall on record of 504mm in
2008 and 12 years drought
- December: massive fires devastate much of Victoria's eastern alpine region
- On 1 December 2006, over 70 fires were caused by lightening strikes.
Many of these fires eventually merged to become the Great Divide
Complex, which lasted 69 days and burnt approximately 1,048,000 hectares
of public and private land.
- January: fires devastate Victoria's Grampians
region - 100,000ha, killing 50,000 sheep and 2 people
- January: lightning strikes start 87 bushfires in Victoria's eastern alpine
region (Mt Buffalo, Bright and Omeo regions) which raged for 70 days and burnt 1.3 million hectares of land
(~5% of Victoria or 15% of public land) but despite a 800km fire front
with 1.3 million ha burnt,
fortunately only 1 person died and 41 homes lost in Victoria (although
Canberra in the ACT was severely affected).
- December: 2 fires caused by lightning, in Big Desert Wilderness Park and
Wyperfeld Park join up and burn 181,400ha.
- December 2: 5 volunteer fire fighters die when their tanker is engulfed in
fire near Linton.
- New Year's Eve: camp fire presumably is cause of fire that burnt 32,000ha
incl. 22,000ha of Victoria's Alpine National Park.
- January 21: 41 houses lost in Victorian fires at Dandenong, Arthur's Seat,
Eildon, Gippsland & Creswick.
- January 14: 3 die, 180 houses lost in Victorian fires at Maryborough,
Avoca & Little River.
- February 16: after a long drought, a massive dust storm which engulfs Melbourne,
the "Ash Wednesday" bush fires and decimates
Victorian and Sth Australian rural areas, especially Mt Macedon, East
(esp. Cockatoo), Warburton, Branxholme, Monivae and
Otway regions. 47 killed in Victoria and another 28 killed in Sth. Aust.
with a total of 2000 houses lost.
- fire day temp. reached max. 43degC
- February 1: 50 houses lost in fires near summit of Mt Macedon.
- followed Victoria's 2nd lowest annual rainfall on record of 362mm in 1982
- see here
- December 28: lightning starts fires in the Sunset Country and the Big
Desert burning 119,000ha.
- February 12: 4 die and 116 houses lost in grassland fires in Victoria's Western
District including the township of Streatham.
- "Bushfires swept through western Victoria
to the SA border. The worst-hit area was the historic township of Streatham
which was burned to the ground in minutes leaving 5 men dead and 7 people
suffering heart attacks. Eighty-one homes, the community hall, post office
and shops were also destroyed."
- December 14th: 12 days of fires burn 7400ha at Mt Buffalo.
- January 8th: 23 killed and 230 homes lost in 230 bushfires break out, many on the
urban fringe including the Lara fire which killed 18 people who left their
cars on the Princes Highway trying to out-run the fire front. Affected areas
included Lara, Daylesford,
Dulgana, Yea, Darraweit,
Kangaroo Flat & Korongvale.
- February 19th: 53 houses lost in the Dandenongs
around The Basin and Upwey.
- February 21: 300,000ha of Gippsland
forest burnt over 3weeks.
- January 17th: 7 die near Longwood in Victoria.
- January 14th: 30 die and 450 homes lost in areas around northern and
- Fires in the Dandenong Ranges and on the outskirts of Melbourne caused
thirty three fatalities and destroyed over 450 houses. Areas severely
affected include The Basin, Christmas Hills, Kinglake, St Andrews,
Hurstbridge, Warrandyte and Mitcham.
- January - Feb:
- 32 killed in a severe bushfire season which destroyed 700 homes
including 50 in beachside suburbs Beaumaris and Mentone as well as 500 homes
and vast stock losses in Victoria's Western District - Four or more
grass fires near Hamilton, Dunkeld, Skipton and Lake Bolac burnt
approximately 440,000 hectares in eight hours.
- January 13th:
- after a long drought, on Jan 13th, "Black Friday" - 71 killed in a
devastating bushfire affecting a large area of eastern Victoria and
destroying the township of Narbethong. Other areas hit were Warrandyte,
Yarra Glen and Victorian Alps.
- Subsequently the Country Fire
Authority (CFA) was formed.
- fire day temp. reached record max. 45.6degC
- followed Victoria's 5th lowest annual rainfall on record of 412mm in
- Over 1,000 homes were burnt, and the
townships of Narbethong, Noojee, Woods Point, Nayook West and Hill End
were destroyed. The townships of Warrandyte, Yarra Glen, Omeo and
Pomonal were badly damaged. Intense fires burned on the urban fringe of
Melbourne in the Yarra Ranges east of Melbourne - affected towns
including Toolangi, Warburton and Thomson Valley. The Alpine towns of
Bright, Cudgewa and Corryong were also affected, as were vast areas in
the west of the state, in particular Portland, the Otway Ranges and the
Grampians. The bushfires also affected the Black Range, Rubicon,
Acheron, Noojee, Tanjil Bren, Hill End, Woods Point, Matlock, Erica,
Omeo, Toombullup and the Black Forest.
- Large areas of state forest, containing
giant stands of Mountain Ash and other valuable timbers, were killed.
Approximately 575,000 hectares of reserved forest, and 780,000 hectares
of forested Crown Land were burnt.
- see here
- 9 die in summer fires in Gippsland
- 206, 000 Ha burnt from 307 fires.
- Feb - March: 60 die in fires in the Dandenongs
and Gippsland forests. On
Feb 14th, 31 die around Warburton. Other areas affected include Noojee,
Kinglake, and Erica.
- Feb 14th fire day temp. reached max. 39.9degC
- followed Victoria's 16th lowest annual rainfall on record of 511mm in 1925
- extensive fires occurred in the Otway Ranges
- fires burnt more than 100,000 hectares
- Fires extended from Gippsland to the Grampians
- February 1st: "Red Tuesday" - 12 die and 2000
buildings razed in Victorian fires.
- Fires burnt 260,000 hectares in South Gippsland.
- 27th Feb "Black Monday"
- From Geelong to Ballarat was nearly a line of fire, and numerous houses,
fences, and crops were either burnt up or with difficulty saved. In the
country round Daylesford similar disasters occurred.
- February 6th: "Black Thursday" - 12 die and a
million sheep lost in fires over a quarter of what is now Victoria affecting
mainly Westernport to the Wimmera.
- 25% of Victoria's emerging colony burned
- The areas affected include Portland, Plenty Ranges, Westernport, the
Wimmera and Dandenong districts.
- Approximately 12 lives, one million sheep and thousands of cattle were
Climate and Victorian bushfire risk:
- see The
Age report Feb 26th 2009
- below average rainfall during winter and spring does not allow the soil
moisture to become fully replenished resulting in grasses curing early and
forests becoming extraordinarily dry during the following summer.
- Victorian annual rainfall is highly variable from a low of 367mm in
1967 to a high of 919mm in 1973, it is dependent upon:
- a supply of moisture from the tropics which usually occurs in years of
La Nina events and is reduced in years of El Nino events
- the moisture from the tropics must still rely on favourable air
currents to bring it down to Victoria, and this concurrence of ideal
events is unfortunately the exception rather than the rule.
- thus Victoria remained in drought during the last 3 La Nina events and
it is thought this may be due to changes in currents in the Indian Ocean
perhaps partly due to lower temperatures over Asia due to increased
levels of aerosols there.
- the decade from mid-1930's to mid-1940's was particularly dry as has
- in contrast, high rainfall periods occurred in the 1950's and 1970's.
- the 1st half of the 20th century was drier than the 2nd half of the
- currently, although we are in a long drought with record temperatures
and record durations of dry periods (2009 is the driest start to a year
on record), there is no evidence to suggest that this drought is not
just part of the normal rainfall variation patterns for Victoria rather
than a climate change effect - yet.
- the next factor required to increase bushfire risk is hot dry northerly
- these occur regularly during the summer, usually after a high pressure
system passes and before a cold front arrives
- in Feb 2009, the winds were hotter than usual due to descending, dry
middle atmosphere air which was warmed by compression in the denser air
and brought strong winds of the middle atmosphere with it coming from
the Indian Ocean towards Tasdmania. This subsidence was caused by the
unusually wet tropical conditions in the preceding weeks which was
associated with ascending air forming clouds and rain in the tropics and
this air then had to subside elsewhere to restore balance.
- the arrival of the cold front tends to increase the lethality of
bushfires by changing the wind direction suddenly and thus the direction
of the bushfire.
- the cold front is even more dangerous if it is a dry cold front not
bringing rains to help quench the fires, as occurred in Feb 2009 fires.