This Saturday 16 February, it will be 25 years since the devastating Ash Wednesday bushfires that killed 75 people in Victoria and South Australia.
In 1983, Victoria was experiencing its driest period on record. Parched grasslands and forests, low humidity, high wind gusts and temperatures up to 43 degrees Celcius formed a fatal combination. Around 180 fires broke out in Victoria on that single day, burning about 200,000 hectares and destroying more than 2000 homes.
The largest fires started in Victoria at Cudgee and Branxholme (near Warrnambool), around Mount Macedon, in the Dandenong Ranges – Cockatoo, Upper Beaconsfield and Belgrave Heights, Monivae, Warburton and in the Otways.
The Upper Beaconsfield fire caused the death of 20 people, 12 of them volunteer firefighters. Hundreds of others were burnt or otherwise injured.
Most of the Ash Wednesday fires were brought under control on the same day.
“Ash Wednesday brought about significant changes to emergency management arrangements within Victoria,” CFA Chief Officer Russell Rees says. “It confirmed Victoria Police's co-ordination role and firmed up the relationship between the fire services as control agencies and the mechanisms whereby they exercise and change control.
“Arrangements such as radio frequencies and communication methods, resource, facility and information sharing and interagency control arrangements all developed following Ash Wednesday. A greater emphasis was placed on powerline clearing and there was significant tree clearing around SEC assets as well as changes to SEC infrastructure to decrease the risk of fire through these assets.”
Other changes in the past two and a half decades include:
* the increased use of aircraft in both firefighting and reconnaissance;
* the immediate upgrading of CFA vehicles to provide for anti-fuel vaporisation of petrol engines across the fleet and for heat shielding on all appliances;
* a huge increase in the provision of protective clothing and equipment for firefighters across CFA;
* the introduction of newly-designed CFA vehicles with higher capacity pumps, heat shielding and rollover protection;
* significant developments in the areas of mapping; and
* an increase in the use of technology.
The Community Fireguard Program was developed to educate the public about how to protect themselves, their families and their homes in the event of a wildfire. “It was recognised that strong partnerships needed to be built between communities and the fire service,” Russell says.
Commemoration Day 2008
CFA, in conjunction with DSE, is working with the media to increase public awareness of the events of that day in 1983, the lessons learned and the improvements made.
On Saturday 16 February, some CFA brigades will go to Critchley Park Junior Reserve in Upper Beaconsfield to lay wreaths at the memorial for those firefighters who died. This is usually a relatively informal event with brigades that lost members visiting at different times during the day.
On Sunday 17 February at 10am, a memorial service is being held at St Lukes Church, McBride Street, Cockatoo. This will be a formal event and invitations have been extended to the Premier, Governor and other dignitaries.
A moving report on Ash Wednesday can be viewed on the ABC's 7.30 Report webpage at http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/
The Herald Sun did an extensive feature and all the content is featured on the Herald Sun website at http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/indepth/0,,5016222,00.html
For specific details on the major Victorian fires on Ash Wednesday, visit
(Photos on this page courtesy of the Department of Sustainability and Environment )