Victoria, February 2009

Bushfire - Black Saturday

Quick Statistics

173 Fatalities
414 Injured
$1.07 Billion Insurance Costs
2029 Homes Destroyed
61 Businesses Destroyed

The Black Saturday fires started on 7 February 2009. Approximately 400 fires were recorded across Victoria, affecting 78 communities. A total of 173 people died in the fires, and 2 029 houses were lost.

A number of communities suffered extensive loss of life and property damage as a result of major fires, including:

Beechworth

Bendigo

Bunyip

Churchill

Horsham

Kinglake

Narre Warren

Redesdale

Upper Ferntree Gully

More than 19,000 CFA personnel were deployed in battling the fires, in incident control or working in other roles. Officers from the Victorian Department of Sustainable Communities were also involved.

As of February 2009, $30 million was distributed through Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payments: $10,000 grants to bereaved families, $7500 to the seriously injured and $5000 grants to those who lost their homes.

A Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund was established in partnership between the Victorian and Commonwealth governments and the Australian Red Cross. The Appeal closed on 17 April 2009 and raised $379 million.

The Insurance Council of Australia estimated the cost of damages in 2009 at $1070 million with a 2011 normalised cost of $1266 million.

The 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission was established on 16 February 2009 to investigate the causes of and responses to the bushfires. The final report and its recommendations were published in July 2010.

Weather conditions

In the two weeks preceding Black Saturday, Victoria experienced a severe heatwave. Melbourne had temperatures in excess of 43 °C for three consecutive days. Combined with the effects of the long term drought, extreme fire risk conditions were created when Melbourne reached 46 °C on 7 February. The wind gusts of more than 100 km per hour changed direction late in the day, causing unpredictable fire paths.

 

Specific fire events

Kilmore East

The Black Saturday fires began with the Kilmore East fire, when fallen power-lines started a blaze in farmland at 11.47 am. This fire spread quickly through a pine plantation and crossed the Hume Freeway at 1.58 pm. The fire burnt through Wandong and reached Mount Disappointment at approximately 3 pm. Strong westerly winds blew the fire towards Humevale and Kinglake with embers causing spot fires up to 20 - 40 kilometres away. Between 3.30 – 7 pm, the fire entered Kinglake National Park and continued onto Strathewen, St Andrews, Kinglake, Kinglake West, Chum Creek, Steels Creek, Arthurs Creek, Flowerdale, Broadford, Healesville and Toolangi. In this fire, 119 people died, 232 were injured and 1242 homes were lost.

Kinglake

The most significant fire was the Kinglake Fire Complex, named following the merge of the Kilmore East and Murrindindi fires on 8 February. This forest crown fire swept through state forest and national parks with flames more than 30 metres high. The extreme temperatures and wind created convection clouds above the flames that further fuelled the fire and propelled embers far beyond the fire front. 

Murrindindi

The Murrindindi fire reportedly began about 3 pm and quickly spread through the Murrindindi State Forest and Black Range. The fire continued through state forests before it reached Narbethong at 4.20 pm, destroying most of the houses in town. A back-burn was attempted outside Marysville at 6 pm but was abandoned as the fire-front moved quickly towards the town. At 6.45 pm the fire hit Marysville razing all but 14 properties. The fire then burnt through Buxton and Taggerty. The fire continued to burn for 26 days and was finally declared under control on 13 March. There were 40 deaths, 73 people injured and 538 houses destroyed.

Other major fires

  • The Bunyip fire broke containment lines in the Bunyip State Forest on the morning of 7 February. This fire destroyed 31 houses across the townships of Jindivick, Labertouche and Tonimbuk.
  • The Horsham fire broke out as a grassfire at 12.20 pm. The very strong winds blew the fire out of control, eventually destroying 13 homes.
  • The Churchill fire started in a hardwood plantation at 1.32 pm. It impacted the townships of Hazeldene, Koornalla, Callingnee and Jeeralang, where 11 people died and 145 homes were destroyed.
  • The Redesdale fire began at 3.11 pm with 14 homes lost.
  • The Narre Warren and Upper Ferntree Gully fires began at about 3.30 pm. Given the density of housing and their proximity to the Dandenong Ranges, there was the potential for widespread destruction. A total of seven homes were burnt.
  • The Bendigo fire began about 4 pm in Maiden Gully. The fire continued through Long Gully and Eaglehawk, where 58 homes were burnt and one person died.
  • The Beechworth fire started at 6 pm and burnt through farmland and state parks. Two people died, 12 were injured and 38 homes lost.

 

Online videos

Content warning – viewers are advised that the stories and images in these videos may be distressing to some people.

Inside Fire Truck on Black Saturday, Country Fire Authority

 

Black Saturday – firefighters tell their story

The experience of one of many CFA brigades involved during the Black Saturday fires. 

 Black Saturday Documentary - ABC TV

 

Inside the Firestorm - ABC1

Black Saturday Strathewen

Experiences from Stratewen/King Lake fires, 7 February 2009

Black Saturday's Victorian Bushfires 

 

Recommended reading

Kinglake-350, Adrian Hyland

Kinglake-350 captures the experience of Roger Wood, the police officer in charge of Kinglake – the epicentre of the worst bushfire disaster in Australia's history, Black Saturday.

Kinglake-350 is a masterpiece of writing about family, community, country life and what happens when a day of ultimate terror arrived. Adrian Hyland takes a dramatic and compelling sequence of events on that day and weaves them into a picture of universal significance and deep fascination.

Documents

Information sources

ABC, ‘Black Saturday’, website viewed 16 August 2011
CFA, 'About Black Saturday,' website viewed 23 April 2014
CSIRO, ‘Q&A: Victorian bushfires,' 12 February 2009, website viewed 30 April 2014
Insurance Council of Australia, Historical disaster statistics, March 2012, website viewed 18 May 2012
Cameron, PA 2009, ‘Bushfire-related emergency department presentations within the first 72 hours of the Victorian bushfires’, Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 191, no. 1, pp. 11-16 2009
The Age, ‘No limit to cost of fires: Landy,’ 18 February 2009, website viewed 2 May 2014
Victorian Government, ‘Victorian 2009 Bushfire Appeal Fund,’ website viewed 2 May 2014.
2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, Final Report, Volume I