Black Saturday Fires in Victoria Australia
The Black Saturday fires were Australia’s most devastating bush-fires. They occurred in the state of Victoria on Saturday, 7 February 2009. This day coincided with the worst bush-fire-weather conditions ever recorded. Extreme heat, high winds, low humidity, and severe drought were all factors in fanning the flames on that tragic day. These fires also caused the greatest loss of life for a bush fire and wiped whole towns off the map. On a global scale, this was the world’s worst fire event. It was the equivalent of 400 Hiroshima style atom bombs going off.
Immediately preceding Black Saturday there were consecutive days of extreme temperatures reaching up to 46 degrees Celsius (115 °F). This heat wave was the worst in Victoria’s history.
An intense heatwave occurred within the worst drought ever recorded in Australia’s history. Often described as a once in millennium drought, including little to no recorded rainfall in the preceding two months of Black Saturday.
Another big contributing factor was the wind which during the fires reached up to and beyond 100km/h (62 mph). The wind was also hot and dry as it came from the tropics and passed over the Australian Outback (the biggest area of desert outside of the Sahara). The wind then changed to gale-force southwesterly winds which reached up to 120 km/h (75 mph). This wind caused the fires to merge into huge fire fronts that burned with speed and ferocity never seen before.
The Black Saturday fires caused Australia’s highest ever loss of life from a bush-fire event. 173 people died with about 120 people being killed by a single firestorm considered by experts to be the perfect firestorm. Over 2,030 houses and 3,500 structures were destroyed with thousands more suffering damage. The towns of Kinglake, Marysville, Narbethong, Strathewen, and Flowerdale were completely destroyed while many other towns suffered serious damage. The total area destroyed was half a million km2, the size of a small country.
The McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index records fire weather conditions and the levels for Black Saturday were higher than the conditions experienced on both Black Friday in 1939 and Ash Wednesday in 1983. In the wake of the fires, and the casualty toll, policies for dealing with bush-fires and management practices were reviewed.