Sunday, February 22, 2015

This Month in Natural Disaster History: Black Saturday Bushfires

I'm starting a new feature today. Once a month, I'll describe a natural disaster that happened in the past 150 years, with an anniversary in the current month.

All images, Wikipedia Commons
This month: Black Saturday Bushfires. Victoria, Australia, February 2009

The summer of 2009 was exceptionally hot and dry in Australia. Wildfires broke out here and there--but Australians of the bush expect some fires, and Australia's fire fighters do a fine job battling them. By February 7, the stage was set for worse. When the temperatures reached 46C (115F) and winds picked up to 100 kph, fire fighters were put on alert. And the fires came.

High winds tore down power lines, igniting the deadliest of the fires. Arsonists set others. A careless (or worse) smoker set another, and one was caused by the careless use of power tools.

Firestorms, in which the fire becomes its own violent weather system, ensued, giving rise to several firewhirls. Temperatures reached 800 C, and fire was evaporated from hoses and storage tanks, complicating fire-fighting efforts.

The fires burned for days in some places as fire fighters struggled to contain them. One fire fighter was killed when a tree fell on him. On the heels of the fires, looting began.  

Over 2,000 homes were burned, thousand of livestock were killed, and 173 people died in the fires, most in Kingslake, Strathewen, and Marysville. Most were killed inside their own homes. Some were burned to death in their cars while trying to flee the fire. This makes the 2009 bushfires the eighth deadliest wildfire, worldwide, in recorded history


Sources: Wikipedia, various newspaper articles, TV documentary at

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