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The Black Saturday bushfires, were a series of bushfires that ignited or were burning across the Australian state of Victoriamarker on and around Saturday 7 February 2009 during extreme bushfire-weather conditions, resulting in Australia's highest ever loss of life from a bushfire. 173 people died as a result of the fires and 414 were injured.

As many as 400 individual fires were recorded on 7 February. Following the events of the 7th of February 2009, that date has since been referred to as Black Saturday.

Overview

Major bushfires in Victoria in the 2000s, showing the Black Saturday fires in red

Conditions

The majority of the fires ignited and spread on a day of some of the worst bushfire-weather conditions ever recorded. Temperatures in the mid to high 40s (Celsius, approx. 110-120 degrees fahrenheit) and wind speeds in excess of 100 km/h, precipitated by an intense heat wave, fanned the fires over large distances and areas, creating several large firestorms and pyrocumulus systems, particularly north-east of Melbourne, where a single firestorm accounted for 120 of the 173 deaths. A cool change hit the state in the early evening, bringing with it gale-force south-westerly winds in excess of . This change in wind direction caused the long eastern flanks of the fires to become massive fire fronts that burned with incredible speed and ferocity towards towns that had earlier escaped the fires.

Effects

The fires destroyed over 2,029 houses, 3,500+ structures in total and damaged thousands more. Many towns north-east of the state capital Melbournemarker were badly damaged or almost completely destroyed, including Kinglakemarker, Marysvillemarker, Narbethongmarker, Strathewenmarker and Flowerdalemarker. Many houses in the towns of Steels Creekmarker, Humevalemarker, Wandongmarker, St Andrewsmarker, Calligneemarker, Taggertymarker and Koornalla were also destroyed or severely damaged, with several fatalities recorded at each location. The fires affected 78 individual townships in total and displaced an estimated 7,562 people, many of whom sought temporary accommodation, much of it donated in the form of spare rooms, caravans, tents and beds in community relief centres.

Causes

The majority of the fires were ignited by fallen or clashing power lines or were deliberately lit. Other suspected ignition sources include lightning, cigarette butts, and sparks from a power tool. More distantly implicated was a major drought that has persisted for more than a decade, as well as a domestic warming trend that has been linked to human-induced climate change. By early-mid March, favourable conditions aided containment efforts and extinguished the fires.

Background



A week before the fires, an exceptional heat wave affected south-eastern Australia. From 28-30 January, Melbournemarker broke records by sweltering through three consecutive days above , with the temperature peaking at , the third hottest day in the city's history.

The heatwave was caused by a slow moving high-pressure system that settled over the Tasman Seamarker, with a combination of an intense tropical low located off the North West Australian coast and a monsoon trough over Northern Australia, which produced ideal conditions for hot tropical air to be directed down over south-eastern Australia.

The February fires commenced on a day when several localities across the state, including Melbournemarker, recorded their highest temperatures since records began in 1859. On 6 February 2009—the day before the fires started—the Premier of Victoria John Brumby issued a warning about the extreme weather conditions expected on 7 February: "It's just as bad a day as you can imagine and on top of that the state is just tinder-dry. People need to exercise real common sense tomorrow". The Premier went on to state that it was expected to be the "worst day [of fire conditions] in the history of the state".

Events of Saturday 7 February

Melbourne air temperature on 7 February 2009 and the preceding and following days.
3582 firefighting personnel were deployed across the state on the morning of February 7 in anticipation of the extreme conditions. By mid-morning, hot northwesterly winds in excess of hit the state, accompanied by extremely high temperatures and extremely low humidity. Also a total fire ban for the entire state was declared.

As the day progressed, all-time record temperatures were being reached, in Melbourne, the hottest temperature ever recorded in an Australian capital city and humidity levels dropped to as low as 6%. The McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index reached unprecedented levels, ranging from 120 to over 200. This was higher than the fire weather conditions experienced on Black Friday in 1939 and Ash Wednesday in 1983.

By midday, windspeeds were reaching their peak and by 12:30pm, powerlines were felled in Kilmore East by the high winds, sparking a bushfire that would later generate extensive pyrocumulus cloud and become the largest, deadliest and most intense firestorm ever experienced in Australia's post-European history. The overwhelming majority of fire activity occurred between midday and 7pm, when windspeed and temperature were at their highest and humidity at its lowest.

Chronology

NASA image of the Whittlesea-Kinglake area on February 14


Wednesday 28 January 2009
Delburn fire commences in West Gippsland, arson suspected.


Wednesday 4 February
Bunyip State Park fire commences.


Saturday 7 February (Black Saturday)
Mid morning - Bunyip State Park fire jumps containment lines, no other major fire activity.
Late morning - Many fires spring up simultaneously as windspeeds increase and temperature rises.
11:20am - Powerlines are felled in high winds igniting a fire at Kilmore East (Kinglake/Whittlesea Area). The fire is fanned by 125km/h winds, enters pine plantation, grows in intensity and rapidly heads southeast through the Wandong area.
12:30pm - Horsham fire commences.
Early afternoon - ABC Radio receive calls from residents of affected areas supplying immediate up-to-date information on fire activity.
3:00pm - Murrindindi Mill (Marysville Area) fire first spotted from Mt Despair fire tower.
3:04pm - Temperature in Melbourne peaks at
4:20pm - Kilmore East fire front arrives at Strathewen.
Mid afternoon - Smoke from Kilmore East firestorm prevents planes from mapping the fire edge.
4:30pm - Number of individual fires across the state increases into the hundreds.
4:30pm - Fire commences at Eaglehawk, near Bendigo
4:45pm - Kilmore East fire front arrives at Kinglake.
5:00pm - Wind direction changes from northwesterly to southwesterly in Melbourne (see Fawkner Beacon Wind chart for February 7, 2009)
5:10pm - Air temperature in Melbourne drops from over 45 to around 30 in 15 minutes.
5:30pm - Wind change arrives at Kilmore East and Murrindindi Mill (Kinglake/Marysville) fire fronts.
5:45pm - Kilmore East fire front arrives in Flowerdale.
6:00pm - Beechworth fire commences.
6:00pm - Kilmore East fire (Kinglake area) smoke plume and pyrocumulus cloud reaches 15km high.
6:45pm - Murrindindi Mill Fire front arrives at Marysville
8:30pm - Victorian Health Emergency Co-ordination Centre notifies Melbourne hospitals to prepare for burn victims.
8:57pm - CFA chief officer first notified that casualties had been confirmed.
10:00pm - Victoria Police announce an initial estimate of 14 fatalities.


Sunday 8 February
Kilmore and Murrindindi Mill fires merge to form the Kinglake fire complex.


Wilsons Promontory fire ignited by lightning.


Victoria Police increase estimate to 25 fatalities.


Map of fire locations on 10 February.


Tuesday 10 February
Spot fires from Kinglake Complex fires merge to form the Maroondah/Yarra complex.


Tuesday 17 February
Six fires still burn out of control with another 19 contained.
Containment lines surround 85 per cent of the Kinglake-Murrindindi complex.
The Kilmore East-Murrindindi Complex South fire burns in Melbourne's O'Shannassy and Armstrong Creek water catchments.
The Bunyip and Beechworth fires close to being contained.


Thursday 19 February
Victoria Police increase estimate to 208 fatalities.


Monday 23 February
Temperatures in the mid 30s Celsius (mid 90s Farenheit), northerly winds and a cool change precipitated a flare up of many of the fires and ignited several new fires, the most major being in the southern Dandenong Rangesmarker near Upweymarker, south of Daylesfordmarker and the Otway Ranges, and directs previously burning fires in the Yarra Ranges towards settlements in the upper Yarra Valley, but the fires are of a low intensity and are quickly contained.


Friday 27 February
The Bunyip fire still burning within control lines in the Bunyip State Park and State Forest areas
The Kilmore East-Murrindindi Complex North fire burns within containment lines on the South Eastern flank.
The Kilmore East-Murrindindi Complex South Fire activity continues in areas close to several towns in the Yarra Valley and the Warburton Valley.
The Wilsons Prom Cathedral Fire in size and still burning.
The French Island fire slowly burning in uninhabited grass and scrub bushland on the North East end of the island.
Tuesday 3 March 2009:
Extreme bushfire conditions predicted for Monday night and early Tuesday morning, involving very strong northerlies, with a change to arrive by Tuesday morning. Approximately 3 million SMS messages warning of extreme fire danger conditions are sent by the mobile phone companies, on behalf of Victoria Policemarker to Victorians and Tasmanians with mobile phones as a technology trial.
Wednesday 4 March
Cooler conditions and rain from the 4-6 March enable firefighters to control and contain several fires; the Kilmore-Murrindindi Complex South being completely contained. Predictions for favourable weather signal the easing of the threat to settlements from the major fires that have been burning since 7 February.


Mid March
Favourable conditions aided containment efforts and extinguished many of the fires.


Major fires

Kinglake-Marysville fires

The large smoke cloud from the Kilmore East fire, being blown across Melbourne's north-east at 2:49pm
The Kinglakemarker fire complex was named after two earlier fires, the Kilmoremarker East fire and the Murrindindimarker Mill fire, merged following the wind change on the evening of 7 February. The complex was the largest of the many fires burning on Black Saturday, destroying over It was also the most destructive, with over 1,800 houses destroyed and 159 lives lost in the region.

Kinglake area (Kilmore East fire)

Just before midday on 7 February, high winds felled a 2 km section of power lines owned by SP AusNet in Kilmore Eastmarker, sparking a fire in a open grass lands that adjoin pine plantations. The fire was fanned by extreme north-westerly winds, and traveled south-east in a narrow fire front through Wandongmarker and Clonbinanemarker, towards St Andrewsmarker.

The cool change passed through the area around 6:30pm, bringing strong south-westerly winds. The wind change turned the initial long and narrow fire band into a wide firefront that moved in a north-east direction through Strathewenmarker, Humevalemarker, Steels Creekmarker, Chum Creekmarker, Kinglake, Kinglake Westmarker, Toolangimarker and Flowerdalemarker.These towns were to become the worst impacted in the state, with a total of 120 deaths and more than 1,200 homes destroyed.

Marysville area (Murrindindi Mill fire)

The Murrindindi Mill fire started at 2:00pm and burned south-east, parallel to the Kilmore fire, towards Narbethongmarker. When the southerly change struck, it destroyed 95 per cent of the houses in Narbethong and swept towards the town of Marysvillemarker.

Late in the afternoon of 7 February, residents had anticipated that the fire front would bypass Marysville. At about 5:00pm, power was lost to the town. Around 6:35pm, the wind died away; minutes later it returned from a different direction, bringing the fire up the valley with it. A police sergeant said that the main street in Marysville had been destroyed: "The motel at one end of it partially exists. The bakery has survived. Don't ask me how. Everything else is just nuked." Reports on 11 February estimated that around 100 of the town's approximate population of 500 had believed to have perished, and that only "a dozen" buildings were left. Premier Brumby described: "There's no activity, there's no people, there's no buildings, there's no birds, there's no animals, everything's just gone. So the fatality rate will be very high." 34 fatalities were eventually confirmed in the Marysville area, with all but 14 of over 400 buildings destroyed. Other localities severely affected included Buxtonmarker and Taggertymarker.



To the south of the fire complex, visitors and residents were stranded at Yarra Glenmarker when fire surrounded the town on three sides. Houses just to the north of Yarra Glen were destroyed and large areas of grassy paddocks burnt.

Investigators strongly believe that the cause of the fire that originated near the Murrundindi Mill and swept through Narbethong and Marysville was arson, with several suspects under investigation. On 1 April, it was confirmed that the cause was arson.

Beechworth fire

In Beechworthmarker, a fire burnt over 300 km² and threatened the towns of Yackadandahmarker, Stanleymarker, Bruarong, Dederangmarker, Kancoonamarker, Kancoona South, Coralbank, Glen Creek and Running Creek. The fire ignited from a felled power line at around 6 pm on 7 February, south of Beechworth, before being driven south through pine plantations by hot northerly winds.

The fire destroyed an unknown number of buildings at Mudgegongamarker, south-east of Beechworth; with two residents confirmed dead. Dense smoke and cloud cover had hindered assessment of the Beechworth fire, but as conditions cleared late on 8 February, aerial crews were able to commence surveys of the situation.

Strong winds fuelled the fire on the night of 8 February, and lightning ignited a new fire near Kergunyahmarker around midday on 9 February. More than 440 personnel worked to contain a separate front that threatened Gundowring and Eskdalemarker, having jumped the Kiewa Rivermarker; late on the night of 9 February the greatest threat was to Eskdale, and fires were also burning in pine plantations 8 km from the large town of Myrtlefordmarker, at the opposite, western end of the fire area. While smaller towns to the east, including Gundowring and Kergunyah, remained under threat, the CFA said that there was no immediate danger to the larger towns of Beechworth and Yackandandahmarker on the northern fringe of the fire area.

By 10 February, firefighters had completed a containment line around the Beechworth fire, and sought to construct more, though the fire continued to burn out of control. By that afternoon, threat messages for the area had been downgraded, though firefighters were tackling a separate fire near Koetong, to the east of the main Beechworth fire, of between . Residents of Beechworth and surrounding towns were advised on the evening of 10 February to expect increased smoke cover as 250 firefighters would be undertaking backburning to eliminate fuel within the control lines.

The Beechworth Correctional Centre minimum-security prison offered up to thirty of its inmates to provide assistance to firefighters; a local DSE manager said that though untrained personnel would not be allowed at the fire front, the prisoners would be welcome in support roles.

Bendigo fire

A fire to the west of the city of Bendigomarker burned out 5 km² . The fire broke out at about 4:30 pm on the afternoon of 7 February, and burned through Long Gullymarker and Eaglehawkmarker, coming within of central Bendigo, before it was brought under control late on 7 February. It destroyed around 61 houses in Bendigo's western suburbs, and damaged an electricity transmission line, resulting in blackouts to substantial parts of the city. One Long Gully resident, ill and confined to his house, was killed in the fire despite the efforts of his neighbours to rescue him. The fire changed direction late on 7 February with the cool change, and headed back towards Eaglehawk; it was contained at 9:52 PM, though it was still burning within containment lines well into February 8.

A relief centre was set up at Kangaroo Flat Senior Citizens Centre. During the fire, residents from Long Gully, Eaglehawk, Maiden Gully, California Gully and West Bendigo were evacuated and advised to assemble at the centre. A town meeting was held for the affected residents on 8 February. On the same day, the Victoria Policemarker indicated that they were investigating whether arson was the cause of the fire.

The CFA initially suspected that the most likely cause was a cigarette butt discarded from a car or truck along Bracewell Street in Maiden Gully. However, the arson squad and local Bendigo detectives spent 9 February investigating the fire scene, and while they could not determine exactly what had caused the fire as of 10 February, they suspected arson. On June 10, 2009, Victoria Police announced that they were 'completely satisfied' that the fire had been deliberately lit. [760244]

Redesdale fire

In Redesdalemarker, a fire starting west of the town burnt 100 km² and destroyed 12 houses and various outbuildings. The fire threatened the towns of Bayntonmarker and Glenhope. Glenhope was threatened again on 9 February from a smaller fire that broke away from the main front, resulting in extra fire crews being brought in from Bendigo and Kynetonmarker. The fire was contained by February 10.

Bunyip State Park fire

A fire started at Bunyip Ridge in the Bunyip State Park on 4 February, originating near walking tracks; it was thought to have been deliberately lit. By 6 February, the fire had burned out 1 km² , and emergency services personnel engaged in fighting the fire feared that, despite efforts to establish containment lines in the park, once the extreme weather conditions of 7 February arrived, the fire was likely to escape the confines of the park and threaten surrounding towns.

By the morning of 7 February, the fire had broken through containment lines. According to the DSE incident controller for the fire, the weather conditions deteriorated much more quickly than had been predicted, saying that "Conditions overnight and in the early hours are usually mild, but our firefighters are reporting strong winds and flame heights of five to 10 metres". Ground-based fire crews had to retreat from the front, as the escalating conditions made firefighting in the bushland terrain impossible. The fire broke out of the park around 4:00pm, and by 6:00pm had burnt out 24 km² of forest and farmland; it threatened the towns of Labertouche, Tonimbukmarker, Drouinmarker and Longwarrymarker, and embers from it were starting spot fires up to to the south.

The fire destroyed approximately a dozen houses at Labertouche, Tonimbuk and Drouin West, in addition to various outbuildings and a factory. The progress of the fire had been stopped by the afternoon of 9 February, though it had burned through 245 km² . DSE crews conducted backburning operations to ensure containment of the fire on 9 February, warning residents of areas between Pakenhammarker and Warragulmarker about smoke from those fires.

The fire was controlled and co-ordinated at the Pakenham ICC in the Combined Emergency Services building, with CFA and DSE personnel running the operation depending on where the fire was at the time. Pakenham VICSES, being joined in the building also provided assistance during the fire operation.

West Gippsland fires

The West Gippsland bushfires began in a pine plantation south-east of Churchillmarker at about 1:30pm on the afternoon of 7 February. Within 30 minutes it had spread to the south-east, threatening Hazelwood South, Jeeralangmarker, and Budgeree East; by late afternoon the fire was approaching Yarrammarker and Woodsidemarker on the south Gippsland coast. The cool change came through the area about 6:00pm, but the south-westerly winds it brought pushed the fire north-east through Calligneemarker, destroying 57 of its 61 homes, Koornalla and Traralgon South, and towards Gormandale and Willung South on the Hyland Highway. About 500 evacuees from the area sheltered at an emergency centre established in a theatre in Traralgonmarker.

The fire threatened the Loy Yang Power Stationmarker, particularly the station's open-cut coal mine. On the night of 7 February, the fire approached the mine's overburden dump, but did not damage any infrastructure, nor did it affect the station's operations. Several small fires broke out in the bunker storing raw coal from the mine, but were contained with no damage. The threat eased by the evening of 8 February as temperatures cooled and some light rain fell; one small spot fire broke out to the south of the power station, but it was contained by water bombing aircraft.

By 9 February, the Churchill fire complex was still burning out of control, with fronts through the Latrobe Valley and the Strzelecki Ranges. By late that afternoon, the complex had burnt out 323 km² and had killed eleven people. Wind changes that evening exacerbated parts of the Churchill complex, causing the CFA to issue further warnings to residents at Won Wron and surrounding areas.

Investigators revealed that they strongly believed arson is the most likely cause of the Churchill fire. A man from Churchill was arrested by police at 4:00pm on 12 February, in relation to the Churchill fires, and was questioned at the Morwell police station, before being charged on 13 February with one count each of arson causing death, intentionally lighting a bushfire and possession of child pornography. On 16 February, a suppression order was lifted and the accused arsonist was named as Churchill resident Brendan Sokaluk, 39.

Dandenong Ranges fire

A car burnt as a result of the Upper Ferntree Gully Fires 2009
In Upper Ferntree Gullymarker, a fire damaged the rail track and caused the closure of the Belgrave railway line as well as all major roads. The fire, which was contained by CFA crews within three hours, burned at least along the railway.

In the southern Dandenong Ranges, bushfires ignited around Narre Warrenmarker, one of which was caused by sparks from a power tool. Six homes were destroyed in Narre Warren Southmarker and three in Narre Warren Northmarker..

Fires were also started in bushland along Terrys Avenue in Belgrave (which was contained and extinguished thanks to a speedy response from the CFA), and Lysterfield State Forest in Upweymarker; Among other things destroyed was the few days old Upper Ferntree Gullymarker Tanker 1 of the CFA.

Wilsons Promontory fire

On 8 February lightning sparked a fire in Wilsons Promontory which has as of the 17th burnt more than 110 km² . This fire posed no immediate threat to campers but due to excessive fuel and inaccessibility authorities chose to evacuate the park, with some campers being evacuated by boat.

At a community meeting on 11 February, DSE and Parks Victoria authorities revealed a plan to backburn across the entrance to the promontory, in order to prevent any possibility of the fire burning out of the park and into farmland and towards the towns of Yanakiemarker and Sandy Pointmarker. Crikey reported that locals were divided on the merits of the plan, some concerned as to why the backburning had not been carried out earlier, and some worried at the large scale of the proposed burns, that were reportedly to be larger than both the existing fire and also the April 2005 fires that affected the park Strong easterly winds on 12 February, however, forced authorities to postpone the proposed burns lest they themselves pose a danger to surrounding communities, though they did proceed with preparatory work..

As of 16 February, the fire had advanced to be 7.5 km away from the park entrance, but was not threatening any towns..



Maroondah/Yarra fires



The Maroondah/Yarra complex was a combination of several fires that had earlier been burning to the east of Healesvillemarker and Toolangimarker on 10 February, as part of the greater 'Kilmore-Murrindindi Complex South'. By late that morning, the complex had burned out 5 km² , with 184 personnel and 56 tankers responding to the fires. A CFA spokesperson said that while temperatures had cooled, strong winds were proving problematic, with towns in the area being threatened by embers blown from the fires. Around midday, the immediate threat to property in the areas around Healesville was downgraded, though a DSE spokesperson said that residents should be mindful of localised changes in the weather.

Horsham fire

The Horshammarker fire burnt , including the golf club and eight homes. The Dimboolamarker fire ute was also destroyed.

The fire was ignited at 12.30 pm on 7 February when strong winds initiated the failure of a 40-year-old tie wire, felling a power line at Remlaw, west of the city, before heading south-west and then south-east, across the Wimmera Highway and Wimmera River to the Horsham Golf Course and then to Havenmarker, south of the city. Firefighters managed to save the general store, town hall and school at Haven, though flames came within metres of those buildings. Winds of up to , that changed direction three times throughout the day, produced conditions described by the local CFA incident controller as the worst he had ever seen. To the south-west of Horsham, a taxi driver collected his fare, an 82-year-old wheelchair-bound woman and her daughter, from her house as the fire was no more than away; the house was alight as the taxi drove off, and burned down within minutes.

At 3 pm more than 400 personnel were engaged in fighting the fire, as well as two water-bombing aircraft, 54 Country Fire Authority (CFA) tankers and 35 Department of Sustainability and the Environment (DSE) units. By 6 pm the front had moved east, and as the wind changed, was then pushed north-east across the Western Highway to Drung, east of Horsham.

Coleraine fire

Near Colerainemarker, a fire started beside the Glenelg Highway around 12:30pm on 7 February, near the intersection with Balochile Road, 2 km north-west of the township. The fire was started when power lines clashed and sparked. Over 230 firefighters, with 43 appliances and two water bombing aircraft, worked to contain the fire which burnt . The fire destroyed one house and a hayshed, as well as injuring livestock, but firefighters were able to save six other homes, including that of the parents of Victorian Premier John Brumby. The fire threatened to burn through the township, but a wind change around 2pm pushed the fire to the north-east instead. The regional CFA operations officer said of the wind change that "[a]ll that happened within about an hour and we were lucky; we thought it would go through Coleraine, but it headed off at the last minute." At about 6pm the fire was controlled.

A local man was badly burned while helping a farmer move livestock out of harms way; the man was caught when the same wind change that saved the town pushed the fire in his direction, and suffered burns to 50% of his body. As of 12 February, the man remained in The Alfred Hospitalmarker in a critical condition.

Weerite fire

At Weerite, east of Camperdownmarker, a fire burnt , and damaged the rail line between Geelongmarker and Warrnamboolmarker. Approximately 3000 sleepers were burnt across a section of track. The rail line was re-opened by Monday 16 February.

The fire caused unquantified losses of stock, and destroyed several outbuildings, but all houses under threat were saved by CFA firefighters. The fire is thought to have been started by sparking felled power lines along the Princes Highway, which carried restricted speeds for a short time due to the heavy smoke in the area.

Investigations

Investigations began almost immediately following the fires to determine a wide variety of things including; identification of victims, cause of ignition sources, authority response assessments and much else. In April, a Royal Commission into the Black Saturday bushfires began hearing, a process that is intended to determine the true nature of circumstances, chronology, etc of the events in question.

Forensic

Chief Commissioner of the Victoria Police, Christine Nixon, formed a taskforce to assist in identifying victims, coordinated by Inspector Greg Hough. Around 40 police from interstate and overseas are assisting with Disaster Victim Identification. The police are from Tasmania, New South Wales, Australian Federal Police, Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. New Zealand police have provided four victim identification dogs and handlers.New Zealand has also sent a team of DVI-trained police officers on a three-week assignment.

Criminal

Some of the fires are suspected to have been deliberately lit by arsonists — whose action has been described as "mass murder" by the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Chief Commissioner Nixon stated on 9 February that all fire sites would be treated as crime scenes. On that day a man was arrested in connection with the fires at Narre Warren; it was alleged by police that he had been operating a power tool, sparks from which ignited a grass fire, destroying two houses.

On 12 February, two people were arrested in connection with the fires, having been observed by members of the public acting suspiciously in areas between Yeamarker and Seymourmarker; although they were both released without charges laid.

A man from Churchill was arrested by police on 12 February, in relation to the Churchill fires, and was questioned at the Morwell police station, before being charged on 13 February with one count each of arson causing death, intentionally lighting a bushfire and possession of child pornography. At a file hearing in the Magistrates' Court in Melbourne on 16 February, the man was remanded in custody ahead of a committal hearing scheduled for 26 May. Following the hearing, a suppression order on the 39-year-old man's identity was lifted, though the order remained in force with respect to publishing his address or any images of him. Despite the order, several members of the social networking website Facebook published the man's photograph (obtained from his MySpace profile) and address on the site, and others made threats of violence against him. The man's lawyer said that, as a consequence of that information being published, threats were made against the man's family. The man's ex-girlfriend and her family were also harassed after the Herald Sun newspaper published a photograph and a story about her. On 17 February, after requests from Victoria Police, the man's MySpace profile was removed; Facebook commenced deleting postings containing threats, and deleted a photo from one group.

Royal Commission

Premier John Brumby announced that there will be a Royal Commission into the fires, which will examine "all aspects of the government's bushfire strategy",including whether climate change contributed to the severity of the fires.

Consequences

Casualties

A total of 173 people were confirmed to have died as a result of the fires. The figure was originally estimated at 14 on the night of February 7, and steadily increased over the following 2 weeks to 210. It was feared that it could rise as high as 240-280, but these figures were later revised down to 173 after further forensic examinations of remains, and after several people previously believed to be missing were accounted for.

A temporary morgue was established at the Coronial Services Centre at Southbankmarker, capable of holding up to three hundred bodies, which the Victorian Coroner compared to a similar facility established after the July 2005 London bombings. By the morning of February 10, 101 bodies had been transported to the temporary morgue. The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine stated that it may well be impossible to positively identify many of the remains.

On February 11, fire authorities estimated that as many as 100 of Marysvillemarker's 519 residents could have perished. This figure was later downgraded to 34 after a large group of residents who remained unaccounted for, were officially located.

By February 16, over 150 forensic investigators were still engaged in searching the ruins of Marysvillemarker, which was almost completely destroyed in the fires. A senior lecturer in fire ecology from the University of Melbournemarker estimated that the fires may have been burning at temperatures of , and concluded that as a result, the remains of some people caught in the fires may have been obliterated.

Among the dead in the Kinglakemarker West area were former Seven Network and Nine Network television personality, Brian Naylor and his wife Moiree. Actor Reg Evans and his partner, artist Angela Brunton, residing on a small farm in the St Andrewsmarker area, also died in the Kinglake area fire. Ornithologist Richard Zann perished in the Kinglake fire, together with his wife Eileen and daughter Eva.

66 of those killed in the fires had been positively identified by March 20, 2009.

Foreign nationals killed in the bushfire included citizens of:
  • Greece - 2
  • Philippines - 2
  • Indonesia - 2
  • Chile - 1
  • New Zealand - 1
  • United Kingdom - 1


Injuries

A total of 414 people were injured during the Black Saturday bushfires. Due to the intensity and speed of the fires, most people injured in the bushfires either died or survived with minor injuries, with significantly fewer major burns than previous bushfires such as Ash Wednesday. Of the people who presented to medical treatment centers and hospitals, there were 22 with serious burns and 390 with minor burns and other bushfire-related injuries.National and statewide burns disaster plans were activated. 22 patients with major burns presented to the state’s burns referral centres, of whom 18 were adults. One patient admitted to the Royal Children’s Hospital and 2 at The Alfred died from their injuries. Adult burns patients at The Alfred spent 48.7 hours in theatre in the first 72 hours. There were a further 390 bushfire-related presentations across the state in the first 72 hours. Most patients with serious burns were triaged to and managed at burns referral centres. Throughout the disaster, burns referral centres continued to have substantial surge capacity.

Fatalities

Map of affected areas and number of casualties in each area
Kinglake/Whittlesea Area (120)


Marysville Area (39)


West Gippsland (11)


Beechworth (2)


Bendigo (1)


TOTAL173

Statistics

  • Out of the 173 deaths, 100 were male and 73 were female.
  • 164 people died in the fires themselves, 5 died later in hospital and 4 died from other causes including car crashes.
  • 7 of the deaths occurred in bunkers of both fire-specific and non-fire-specific design.
  • Location:
  • 113 - inside houses
  • 27 - outside houses
  • 11 - in vehicles
  • 6 - in garage
  • 5 - near vehicle
  • 5 - on roadway
  • 4 - attributed to or associated with the fire but not within fire location
  • 1 - on reserve
  • 1 - in shed


Firefighter fatality

An ACTmarker firefighter was killed near Cambarville on the night of 17 February, when a burnt-out tree collapsed onto his fire tanker. He was the only working firefighter killed during the 2009 Victorian bushfires.

Overall Statistics

St. Andrews-Kinglake Road, April 2009
  • 4500 km² burnt
  • 414 people injured
  • 7,562 people displaced
  • Over 3,500 structures destroyed, including;
2,029+ houses
59 commercial properties (shops, pubs, service stations, golf clubs, etc)
12 community buildings (including 2 police stations, 3 schools, 3 churches, 1 fire station)
399 machinery sheds, 729 other farm buildings, 363 hay sheds
19 dairies, 26 woolsheds
  • of stored fodder and grain
  • 2 km² of standing crops
  • 1680 km² of pasture
  • 8 km² of fruit trees, olives and vines
  • 70 km² of plantation timber
  • 39 km² of private bushland
  • 2,150 sheep, 1,207 cattle, and an unknown number of horses, goats, alpacas, poultry and pigs
  • Over 10,000 km of boundary and internal fencing destroyed or damaged
  • Over 55 businesses destroyed
  • About 211,000 tonnes of hay destroyed
  • Over 11,000 livestock killed or injured
  • The electricity supply was disrupted to 60,000 residents
  • Several mobile phone base stations and telephone exchanges damaged or destroyed
  • 950 local parks, 70 national parks and reserves, and over 600 cultural sites and historic places were destroyed
  • The amount of energy released during the firestorm in the Kinglake-Marysville area was equivalent to the amount of energy released by 1,500 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.


Area
Area (ha)
Fatalities
Buildings destroyed
Ignition source
Fire name/origin
Kinglake Area
180,000+
120
1244 houses, many commercial buildings
Power lines
Kilmore East fire
Marysville Area
150,000+
38
590 houses, many commercial buildings
Arson
Murrindindi Mill fire
West Gippsland
32,860+
11
247 houses
Arson
Churchill-Jeeralang fire
Beechworth
30,000+
2
29 houses
Power lines
Mudgegonga fire
Bunyip State Park
24,500
0
24 houses, several other buildings
Arson/lightning suspected
Bunyip State Park fire
Wilsons Promontory
11,000+
0
None
Lightning
-
Redesdale
10,000
0
12 houses, several outbuildings
Unknown
-
Horsham
5,700
0
8 houses, several other buildings
Power lines
Remlaw fire
Weerite
1,300
0
Several outbuildings
Power lines
-
Coleraine
770
0
1 house, several outbuildings
Power lines
-
Maroondah/Upper Yarra
505
0
None
Spotting
Maroondah/Yarra complex
Bendigo
500+
1
160 Buildings (59 houses)
Arson
Maiden Gully/Bracewell Street fire
Dandenong Ranges
5+
0
9+ houses
Unknown, Machinery
Upper Ferntree Gully fire
Totals
450,000+
173
3,500+ (2,029+ houses)
[760245]


International context

The Black Saturday bushfires were the 8th deadliest singular bushfire/wildfire event in recorded history:

  • 1871 - Peshtigo, Wisconsin, USA - 1200
  • 1918 - Cloquet, Minnesota, USA - 453
  • 1894 - Hinckley, Minnesota, USA - 418
  • 1881 - Thumb region, Michigan, USA - ~300
  • 1916 - Matheson, Ontario, Canada - 282
  • 1997 - Sumatra, Kalimantan, Indonesia - 250
  • 1987 - Greater Hinggan, China - 213
  • 2009 - Victoria, Australia - 173


Responses

Responses to the Black Saturday bushfires included immediate community response, donations and later, international aid efforts, Government inquiries including a Royal Commission and recommendations and discussions from a wide variety of bodies, organisations, authorities and communities. Several of these responses are currently ongoing as of September 2009.

In September 2009 it was revealed that Australia's most prominent fire ecologist, Kevin Tolhurst, is developing a new course for the University of Melbournemarker on fire behaviour. Later that month the City of Manningham announced it was developing the state's first integrated fire management plan in conjunction with the interim findings of the Royal Commission. Eventually all Victorian councils responsible for both urban and rural land will need to develop such plans, which define fire risks in open space areas, along major roads, and in parkland.

In September/October 2009, it was announced that a new fire hazard system would replace the previous one. The new system involves a 6-tier scale to advise those in affected areas of the level of risk, activity of the fire, etc. On the highest risk days, residents will be advised to leave the potentially affected areas.

Subsequent events and issues

Environmental impacts

Millions of animals are estimated to have been killed by the wildfires. Additionally, of the surviving wildlife, many more have suffered from severe burns. For example, large numbers of kangaroos were afflicted with burned feet due to territorial instincts that drew them back to the recently-burned and smoldering homes. The affected area, particularly around Marysville, contains the only known habitat of Leadbeater's Possum, Victoria's faunal emblem.

Forested catchment areas supplying five of Melbourne's nine major dams were affected by the fires, with the worst affected being Maroondah Reservoir and O'Shannassy Reservoir. As of 17 February, over ten billion litres of water had been shifted out of affected dams into others. A Melbourne Water spokesperson said that affected dams may need to be decommissioned if the contamination from ash and other material were serious enough, and also said that forest regrowth in the burnt-out catchment areas could reduce runoff yields by up to 30% over three decades.

Recently, smoke from the fires has been found in the atmosphere at record altitudes.

Climate change

While it is difficult to attribute an individual weather event, such as the current extended drought in southeastern Australia, to an overall climatic pattern such as global warming, it is possible to correlate patterns with other patterns. Although the current drought could be the result of natural weather pattern variability, it is embedded in a 50-year warming trend that can be attributed with confidence to human-induced increases in greenhouse gas emissions.

This warming trend is, in turn, expected to continue in proportion to an increase in the intensity and frequency of Australian fires. Following the fires, commentators such as Tim Flannery, a popular scientist, Greens politician Bob Brown, and leading and volunteer firefighters argued that the number of extreme fire days in Australia is likely to increase substantially due to climate change and that governments should therefore invest more energy combating it. A recent study by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO which found that fire-weather risk is likely to increase at most sites considered from 2020 to 2050 was cited in support.

However, a study completed after the bushfires by the CSIRO found that the Indian Ocean Dipole was at least partially to blame . As the bushfires were largely as a result of extreme temperatures and dryness, the phenomenon has also been to blame for the long drought that Australia has suffered for many years , hence resulting in the same conclusions being reached.

Fire policy

In the wake of the fires, and the mounting casualty toll, there was debate about policies for dealing with bushfires.

In announcing that the fires would be investigated by a Royal Commission, Victorian Premier John Brumby suggested that the long-standing 'stay-and-defend-or-leave-early' policy would be reviewed, saying that while it had proven reliable during normal conditions, the conditions on 7 February had been exceptional. Brumby said that "There were many people who had done all of the preparations, had the best fire plans in the world and tragically it didn't save them." However, Commissioner Nixon defended the policy, saying that it was "well thought of and well based and has stood the test of time and we support it." Similarly, Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Shane Fitzsimmons said that "Decades of science, practice and history show that a well-prepared home provides the best refuge in the event of fire". Nixon also dismissed potential policies involving forced evacuations, saying "There used to be policies where you could make people leave but we're talking about adults". Former Victorian police minister Pat McNamara argued that forced evacuations could have worsened the death toll, as many of the dead appeared to have been killed while attempting to evacuate the fire areas by car.

Naomi Brown, chief executive of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council, argued that the high number of fatalities in these fires, as opposed to earlier fires such as the Ash Wednesday fires, was partly attributable to increased population densities at Melbourne's fringes. David Packham, research fellow at Monash University, argued that high fuel loads in bushland led to the destructive intensity of the fires, saying that "There has been total mismanagement of the Australian forest environment". Federal member of parliament and former forestry minister Wilson Tuckey also identified high fuel loads as a key contributor to the destruction, saying "Governments who choose to lock up these forests and... treat them with benign contempt, well, others pay the penalty". Tuckey put the blame for fuel loads on the two major parties – Labor and the Coalition – asserting that they "go running around putting in more reserves to get Green preferences". Nationals Senator Ron Boswell also argued for changes to forestry management policies, saying that "I'm not blaming anyone for this, I just think we need to look at some areas we turn into parks and then can't defend them".

Building codes debate

The Victorian government intends to debate new fire related planning and building code standards. In response to the Victorian bushfires new building regulations for bushfire-prone areas have been fast tracked by Standards Australia. Victoria has no separate building code for bushfire-prone areas. In New South Wales building laws for bushfire-prone areas are incorporated in planning legislation using a 1090 Kelvin(K) (817°C) level as the assumed temperature to which houses are subject when hit by bushfire. A draft national building code for bushfire-prone areas is proposing to use 1000K (727°C) as the standard. Fire engineers say that standards should be based on a 1090K (817°C) temperature. The temperature of fires can peak at approximately 1600K/1300°C.

Economic impact

The general insurance industry has received approximately 8,150 claims with an estimated insurable cost of $1.02 billion. However the full extent of costs to the communities will not be known for a considerable period of time. Some claims adjusters suggested that the total insurance costs for the fires could amount to $1.5 billion. Other industry analysts suggested that the fires would lead to rises in insurance premiums, so that insurers might recover some of their losses. At the close of trading on 9 February, Suncorp Metway shares had dropped by more than a quarter, and IAG shares were down nearly ten per cent.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard called on insurers to respond in a sensitive fashion to claims relating to the fires, saying "I am sure that anybody from an insurance company that has looked at their TV screens today is going to see the devastation and understand it is going to trigger claims and that those claims need to be responded to sympathetically and quickly."

An economist from Goldman Sachs JBWere said that an upside of the fire situation was that reconstruction efforts were likely to produce a stimulus effect on the economy of between 0.25 and 0.4 per cent of GDP over 18 months, saying that "As tragic as the events of the past two days have been, the rebuilding phase will provide a catalyst for economic growth in coming months, even if the personal and environmental cost takes years to recover".

Looting

By the morning of 11 February, reports of looting had been posted. Witnesses reported seeing acts of looting occurring at a property at Heathcote Junction, shortly after the removal of the body of a victim from the property. That evening, via a report on ABC Local Radio, a number of residents of Kinglakemarker who had been allowed back into the area to inspect the damage, revealed that a "Looters Will Be Shot" sign had been posted in the town, after a number of suspicious people and vehicles were seen moving through the town.

On 12 February, a small number of arrests were made, and charges laid against people in relation to "looting offences", as announced by Christine Nixon.

Lawsuits

A class action lawsuit was initiated in the Supreme Court of Victoriamarker on 13 February by Slidders Lawyers against electricity distribution company SP AusNet, in relation to the Kilmore Eastmarker fire that became part of the Kinglake complex, and the Beechworthmarker fires. A partner at the firm indicated that the claim would centre on alleged negligence by SP AusNet in its management of electricity infrastructure. On 12 February police had taken away a section of power line as well as a power pole from near Kilmore Eastmarker, part of a two-kilometre section of line that fell on the morning of 7 February and was believed to have started the fire there.

A separate class action claim was expected to be commenced by Gadens Lawyers some time after 16 February, and Slater & Gordon indicated that they were awaiting the report of the to-be-established Royal Commission, expected in late 2010, before initiating any claims.

Also on 13 February, five law firms from Victoria's Western Districts held a meeting to discuss a potential class action in relation to the Horshammarker fire, which was also thought to have been started by fallen power lines.

Russian waterbombers

In October 2009 it was claimed that the Russian Government had offered the Australian Government two advanced Ilyushin Il-76 waterbombers to help put out the bushfires. The offer was forwarded to the Victoria authorities, which the DSE declined the offer due to the aircraft not suitable for the conditions in Victoria and approval from aviation authorities would have taken too long. Ilyushin Il-76 waterbombers has the capacity to drop 42,000 litres of water in a single pass.

Gallery



File:09 vic bushfire damage Steels Creek 02.JPG|Damage to a carport in Steels Creek, February 10File:09 vic bushfire damage Yarra Glen 02.JPG|Property damage in Yarra Glen, February 10File:2009 Victorian bushfires Acheron Way DSC 0324.JPG|Acheron Way, showing regrowth, April 10File:2009 Lake Mountain after bushfire DSC 0335.JPG|Lake Mountainmarker toboggan run, April

See also



References

  1. FACTBOX: The world's water and climate change (Reporting by Ed Stoddard, editing by Mary Milliken)(March 9, 2009)Reuters
  2. CFA Awareness Message - Bunyip Ridge Track Fire 7.00pm, 27/02/2009
  3. CFA Downgrade Message - Alert to Awareness-Kilmore East Murrindindi Complex North Fire, 27/02/2009
  4. CFA Awareness Message - Kilmore East - Murrindindi Complex South Fire 7.20 pm, 27/02/2009
  5. CFA Awareness Message - Wilsons Prom Cathedral Fire 6.00pm, 27/02/2009
  6. Awareness Message - French Island Fire 6.50pm, 27/02/2009
  7. http://www.theage.com.au/national/marysville-fire-deliberately-lit-police-20090401-9j39.html
  8. http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/news/local/news/general/inferno-warning-cfa/1435265.aspx
  9. Victoria Police Media Release 17 February 2009. http://www.police.vic.gov.au/content.asp?Document_ID=19541
  10. Australian Medical Journal article abstract
  11. Victoria Police, Press conference: Bushfires death toll revised to 173, Release date: Mon 30 March 2009 http://www.police.vic.gov.au/content.asp?Document_ID=20350
  12. Black Saturday data reveals where victims died, May 28, 2009, The Age
  13. ACT firefigher killed near Marysville
  14. The Land, "Farmers do their bit, Peter J Austin, p.12, Rural Press, 19-2-2009
  15. Norther Daily Leader, 18 May 2009, "Steady progress on bushfire clean-up", p. 8
  16. Last captive Leadbeater's possum dies. ninemsn.com.au. April 15, 2006.
  17. Vic bushfires may affect water supplies
  18. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/05/28/2583676.htm
}}

Further reading

  • — recount of Operation Vic Fire Assist. Originally published in the Army newspaper.


External links



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