"In the beginning"


The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of the blog management, (on the other hand, they are not necessarily not the views of the blog management).

No effort has been made to stay within the bounds of the truth in this blog as it has always been the view of the management that the truth should never be allowed to stand in the way of a good story.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Bushfires; Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday Fires devastated two States Victoria and

South Australia on February 16th 1983.

This was a scene that greeted countless families when they returned
to their homes on Ash Wednesday.

The coastal area near the Otway Ranges was one of the many places
hit hard by Ash Wednesday fires.

Ash Wednesday Fires.

In many ways the Ash Wednesday fires were worse than the Black Friday fires, there were 75 lives lost (4 more than Black Friday) there were more than twice as many homes destroyed.

The main difference in the two disasters was the location, Ash Wednesday struck in far more settled areas, which accounted for the fact of more homes destroyed, it burned out less than half the area and was pretty much contained in only one day, a relatively small amount of the terrain was in forest country.

In the 44 years between these disasters there had been many changes we now have the very efficient Country Fire Authority and a rural fire brigade at every town, there are now much better roads, every brigade has a fire truck with water tanks and pumps, two way radio communication is the norm now, and aerial fire fighting, while in it’s infancy in 1983 did play a part.

Weather conditions leading up to the Ash Wednesday fires.

Between April 1982 and January 1983, Victoria experienced severe drought conditions and little rainfall, resulting in its driest period on record. A combination of dry grasslands and forests, very hot temperatures, low humidity and high wind gusts presented Victoria with a high bushfire risk. The temperature was 43 degrees Celsius on Ash Wednesday.

Note; These conditions have been repeated over and over again, right up to the fires that are currently burning in Victoria and Tasmania.

Where did the Ash Wednesday bushfires start?

Around 180 bushfires broke out on 16 February 1983, known as Ash Wednesday. The largest bushfires started in Victoria at Cudgee and Branxholme (near Warrnambool), around Mount Macedon, in the Dandenong Ranges - Cockatoo, Upper Beaconsfield and Belgrave Heights, Monivae, Branxholme, Warburton and in the Otways. Fires also broke out in South Australia, where 159,000 hectares of land in the Adelaide Hills and in farming country in the south-east of the State were burnt in the fires.

How did the Ash Wednesday bushfires start?

The bushfires started in a number of ways: through the clashing of electric power lines, tree branches connecting with power lines, fires being deliberately lit, and through unknown causes.

How much damage was caused in the fires?

The Victorian fires burnt an area around 500,000 acres. A great number of people lost their homes, possessions, stores, equipment, machinery and stock in the fires.

How many lives were lost in the fires?

The Ash Wednesday fires claimed 75 lives in total, 47 in Victoria and 28 in South Australia The largest number of lives were lost in the Upper Beaconsfield fire with 20 deaths. Hundreds of others were burnt or otherwise injured. Twelve volunteer firefighters in Victoria were killed in the fire at Beaconsfield.

How many homes were lost in the fires?

In Victoria, more than 2,000 houses were destroyed and several hundred in South Australia.

How long did it take to control the fires?

Most of the major Ash Wednesday fires were controlled on the day, some in two to eight hours, others in a couple of days. Accessibility to the fires played a large part in how quickly fires were brought under control.

During the years I lived in Victoria there were a couple of other major fires that had some bearing on my life;

Lara bushfire 1969 - 8 January.

280 fires broke out on the 8th of January 1969. Of these, 12 grass fires reached major proportions and burnt 250,000 hectares. Areas seriously affected included Lara, Daylesford, Dulgana, Yea, Darraweit, Kangaroo Flat and Korongvale. Twenty-three people died, including 17 motorists at Lara, trapped on the Geelong to Melbourne freeway. The fires also destroyed 230 houses, 21 other buildings and more than 12,000 stock.

At this time I lived in Geelong which is the second largest city in
, located some 45 miles from Melbourne and connected by
a six lane freeway it was beyond belief that 17 people could be
killed by a bushfire on this freeway.

It turned out that these motorists could not see where they were going in the dense smoke, there were some large culverts under the roadway to take water away where one group of motorists stopped, thinking they would be safer there than in their cars with the danger of fuel tanks exploding they sheltered in the culverts and were all asphyxiated by smoke, none of the cars exploded by the way.

Avoca bushfire 1985 - 14 January.

A major fire in Central Victoria burnt 50,800 hectares of land, including 17,600 hectares of Crown Land. Three people died and over 180 houses, 500 farms and 46,000 stock were destroyed as a result of the fire. Areas affected include Avoca, Maryborough, and Little River.

In 1985 I was living on a farming property 5 miles west of Maryborough and 15 miles south of Avoca where this fire was deliberately lit by someone with a grudge against the local timber mill.

It burned to within a half mile of our property but luckily was being directed past us by a strong wind, some friends in the area were not so lucky although none of our friends were injured or burnt out many lost stock, fences and outbuildings.

People respect you because

they feel you've survived hard times

and endured,

and although you've become famous,

you haven't become phony.


Margaret said...

Hi Peter, very thought provoking post, it seems so unreal that people can actually start some of these terrible fires. I well remember a lot of bushfires in the forest sourounding Daylesford when living there, all my male relatives were firefighters, the firebell used to ring out certain numbers of times to distinguish what type of emergency there was.
Cheers Margaret

Anonymous said...

I recently saw a report on fires somewhere there. It's always tough on folks. I only hope that when someone starts them on purpose, they get caught or go up in smoke.

LZ Blogger said...

Peter - I have been here a couple of times, but actually have not been able to post on anyone blog all week. I am blamming Beta Blogger (which I have NOT switched over to). But I not sure what the problem REALLY is. Maybe it's ME! ~jb///

DellaB said...

We arrived from New Zealand to live in South Australia about two weeks after those devastating fires. We landed in Brisbane and drove down to Adelaide - through all the worst hit areas. It was very sobering.

A year or so later, we were house-hunting in Adelaide, in the hills, and found a really great location where the propertys were well below the price of similar houses in other areas. We were getting really keen, until somebody told us that it was the hillside suburb that was the worst affected, people died on the road trying to escape because there was only the one road up and down the hill. We didn't buy!

thanks for all the research Peter, very informative and well presented.