Black Saturday Fires in Victoria Australia

Black Saturday Fires

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 bushfire 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 bushfire 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 atom bombs exploding.


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, it included little to no recorded rainfall in the preceding two months of Black Saturday.


Inside the firestormAnother big contributing factor was the wind which reached up to and beyond 100km/h (62 mph). The wind was also hot and dry from passing over the vast Australian outback (the biggest area of desert in the world outside of the Sahara). The wind then changed to gale force southwesterly winds which reached up to 120 km/h (75 mph). This second wind caused the fires to merge into one huge fire front that burned with speed and ferocity never witnessed before.


Burned out cars Black Saturday FiresThe 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 in Australia. The levels for Black Saturday were higher than the conditions experienced on both the ‘Black Friday’ event in 1939 and the notorious ‘Ash Wednesday’ event in 1983. In the wake of the fires and the casualty toll, policies for dealing with bush-fires and management practices needed revision.