The summer of 2018–19 was Victoria’s hottest on record, contributing to significant bushfire activity during February and March 2019. Lightning strikes occurred across eastern Victoria overnight on 28 February and 1 March and by 9.00am that morning, 17 fires had ignited. The warm dry weather continued and by 2.00pm on 4 March, more than 290 grass, scrub and bushfires had been reported.
During the first week in March, bushfires threatened communities in the shires of Baw Baw, Cardinia, Latrobe, South Gippsland and Wellington.
A fire in the Bunyip State Park about 65 kilometres east of Melbourne burned more than 15,000 hectares after several smaller fires merged. This fire destroyed 29 homes around Bunyip North, Garfield North and Tonimbuk, as well as 67 outbuildings and sheds. Two more homes were destroyed in the Yinnar South–Budgeree East fire, about 75 kilometres to the south-east.
Other major fires occurred near Licola and Dargo. The Licola fire burned more than 80,000 hectares and the Mt Darling–Cynthia Range Track fire, about 20 kilometres north-west of Dargo, burned more than 28,000 hectares.
Around 2,000 firefighters were deployed to fight the fires, as well as more than 55 aircraft including 2 helicopters with night-time firefighting capability. Seven hundred and fifty personnel from other Australian states and New Zealand supported Victorian firefighters, filling firefighting, incident management, air operations and fire behaviour prediction roles.
On 8 March, those with insured losses were urged to lodge insurance claims as soon as possible after the Insurance Council of Australia declared the Bunyip State Park and Yinnar South–Budgeree East fires a catastrophe to speed up the processing of claims. By mid-April, insured losses for the Bunyip State Park bushfire alone had approached $32 million.
Social media and emergency management applications played an important role in disseminating information during the fires. Between 1 March and 21 March, more than 800 community warnings had been issued, including 62 emergency warnings and four recommendations to evacuate. Over the month of March, there were 1.2 million users of the VicEmergency website.
Smoke from the fires continued to impact parts of Victoria into late March. However, by early April 2019 all of the fires were declared controlled.