Australian Catastrophe

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Australian Catastrophe
« on: January 05, 2020, 08:08:57 PM »
Catastrophe in Australia in 1851 (and again in 1939 as well as 2019.)
Terrible though the recent bush fires in SE Australia are, they are not a new phenomenon and have been occurring since well before the earliest days of European settlement and the modern fad of blaming everything on climate change.
Similar bush fires have been recorded in California, Southern Africa and the Mediterranean for hundreds of years at least. The fires are depended upon by many species of plant and are a part of the established cycle of life, death and rebirth.
What is relatively new is that humans have chosen to build homes in formerly uninhabited bush country.
In England a similar trait has occurred whereby housing estates, with warning names like Fishlake, are built in flood plains. The owners subsequently lament the periodic flooding of their homes.
The Black Thursday bushfires were a devastating series of fires that swept the state of Victoria, Australia, on 6 February 1851. Twelve human lives were lost, along with one million sheep, thousands of cattle and countless native animals.
“The largest Australian bushfire in European-recorded history that burnt an area of c. 5 million ha. which covered a quarter of Victoria.” - Year Book Australia, 2004
"The temperature became torrid, and on the morning of the 6th of February 1851, the air which blew down from the north resembled the breath of a furnace. A fierce wind arose, gathering strength and velocity from hour to hour, until about noon it blew with the violence of a tornado. By some inexplicable means it wrapped the whole country in a sheet of flame — fierce, awful, and irresistible." - Picturesque Atlas of Australasia 1886
 
The Black Thursday bushfires, were caused in part by an intense drought that occurred throughout 1850 when the continent suffered from extreme heat. On 6 February 1851, a strong furnace-like wind came down from the north and gained power and speed as the hours passed. It is believed that the disaster began when a couple of bullock drivers left logs burning unattended, which set fire to long, dry grass affected by the recent drought. The year preceding the fires was exceptionally hot and dry and this trend continued into 1851.
The weather reached record extremes. By eleven it was about 47 °C (117 °F) in the shade. The air cooled to 43 °C (109 °F) by one o'clock and rose to 45 °C (113 °F) around four o’clock. Survivors claimed the air was so full of smoke and heat that their lungs seemed to collapse. The air was so dark it made the roads seem bright. Pastures and plains became shrivelled wastelands: water-holes disappeared, creeks dried up, and trees turned into combustible timber. Clouds of smoke filled the air; forests and ranges became one large "sheet of flames". The hot north wind was so strong that thick black smoke reached northern Tasmania, creating a murky mist, resembling a combination of smoke and fog. Homes, crops and gardens were consumed by the rushing fire leaving a quarter of Victoria in a heap of desolate ruins. The community fled to water to escape the suffocating air around them, returning after everything was over to the sight of "blackened homesteads" and the charred bodies of animals that could not escape. The weather at sea was even "more fearful than on shore". The intense heat could be felt 32 km (20 mi) out to sea where a ship came under burning ember attack and was covered in cinders and dust.
Thursday was one of the most oppressive hot-days we have experienced for some years. In the early morning the atmosphere was perfectly scorching, and at eleven o'clock the thermometer stood as high as 117 degrees (47.2 Celsius) in the shade; at one o'clock it had fallen to 109 degrees and at four in the afternoon was up to 113 degrees.(45 Celsius)

The blasts of air were so impregnated with smoke and heat, that the lungs seemed absolutely to collapse under their withering influence; the murkiness of the atmosphere was so great that the roads were actually bright by contrast.” The Melbourne Argus reported (Feb. 8.1851)
“I write only what I have seen, I might mention that pigs and dogs running loose were burned to death – birds were dropping down off the trees before the fire in all directions – oppossums, kangaroos, and all sorts of beasts can be had today ready roasted all over the bush. Fully one half of the timber in this neighbourhood has been burned or blown down, and all the grass has been burnt.” - MA 10.02.1851
"Some of the Gippsland aborigines, who had acquired a small smattering of the English vocabulary from their intercourse with white men, accounted for the physical phenomenon in a very matter of fact way, by sagely wagging their curly heads and declaring that ‘bright fellow’ (pointing to the sun) had got the blight in his eye. It appears that the obfuscation of the sun by smoke from distant bushfires was regarded as a natural phenomenon by the Australian aborigines”  - Melbourne Herald February1883 Garry Owen, Eye - Witness
http://romseyaustralia.com/fire1851.html

Romsey Australia: Bushfires in Victoria 1851 Black Thursday
Bushfires in Victoria 1851 Black Thursday" The fire kept enlarging its orbit, rolling about like some huge monster, destroying everything it touched, its track marked by charred timber, embers and ashes, cries and lamentations.
romseyaustralia.com
The Black Friday bushfires of 13 January 1939, in Victoria, Australia, were among the worst natural bushfires in the world. Almost 20,000 km2 (4,942,000 acres, 2,000,000 ha) of land was burned, 71 people died, several towns were entirely obliterated and the Royal Commission that resulted from it led to major changes in forest management. Over 1,300 homes and 69 sawmills were burned, and 3,700 buildings were destroyed. It was calculated that three-quarters of the State of Victoria was directly or indirectly affected by the disaster. The Royal Commission noted that "it appeared the whole State was alight on Friday, 13 January 1939"

In the days preceding the fires, the state capital, Melbourne, experienced some of its hottest temperatures on record at the time: 43.8 °C (110.8 °F) on 8 January and 44.7 °C (112.5 °F) on 10 January. On 13 January, the day of the fires, temperatures reached 45.6 °C (114.1 °F), which stood as the hottest day officially recorded in Melbourne for the next 70 years. (Unofficial records show temperatures of around 47 °C (117 °F) were reported on the Black Thursday fires of 6 February 1851).
The summer of 1938–39 had been hot and dry, and several fires had broken out. By early January, fires were burning in a number of locations across the state. Then, on Friday 13 January, a strong northerly wind hit the state, causing several of the fires to combine into one massive front.
In terms of the total area burnt the Black Friday fires are the second largest, burning 2 million hectares, with the Black Thursday fires of 1851 having burnt an estimated 5 million hectares.
Ignoring urban fires, the world’s worst bushfire was at Peshtigo in Wisconsin in 1871, which burnt nearly 1.2 million acres, destroyed twelve communities and killed between 1500–2500 people. Now largely forgotten, Peshtigo was overshadowed by the Great Fire of Chicago that occurred on the same day.

More info if you are interested
27th of February 1865 - "Black Monday"
" On Black Monday the worst day for heat and smoke we have had since Black Thursday, in 1851 -the destruction of property was very great, and no one who has not seen a fire raging among the stubbles and fences on tilled lands, with a strong north wind blowing, can well imagine what this is. From Geelong to Ballarat was nearly a line of fire, and numerous houses, fences, and crops were either burnt up or with difficulty saved. In the country round Daylesford similar disasters occurred. .... " 
Source:  Perth Gazette & W.A. Times   Friday 21 April 1865
1st of February 1898 - "Red Tuesday"
Fires burnt 260,000 hectares in South Gippsland. Twelve lives and more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed.
"... People however soon began to find that the water caught has an unmistakably smoky flavor, which may easily be accounted for by the fact that the atmosphere during the rain and for a long time before was much thickened by smoke from bushfires ..."   
Source:  The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 17 February 1898.
Early 1900s
Destructive and widespread fires are reported to have occurred in 1905 and 1906. Fires extended from Gippsland to the Grampians in 1912. In 1914, fires burnt more than 100,000 hectares. In 1919 extensive fires occurred in the Otway Ranges.
February - March 1926 - "Black Sunday"
Forest fires burnt across large areas of Gippsland throughout February and into early March. Sixty lives were lost in addition to widespread damage to farms, homes and forests. The fires came to a head on February 14, with 31 deaths recorded at Warburton. Other areas affected include Noojee, Kinglake, Erica, and the Dandenong Ranges. Widespread fires also occurred across other eastern states.
1932
Major fires occurred in many districts across Victoria throughout the summer. Large areas of State forest in Gippsland were burnt and nine lives were lost.
Total area burnt in Victoria from the fires between Dec 21, 1931 and Feb 6, 1932, there were 206, 000 Ha burnt from 307 fires. Source: Foley  1947
13 January 1939 - "Black Friday"
From December 1938 to January 1939, fires burnt 1.5 to 2 million hectares, including 800,000 hectares of protected forest, 600,000 hectares of reserved forest and 4,000 hectares of plantations.
The fire severity peaked on Friday January 13 - "Black Friday". The fires caused seventy one fatalities and destroyed more than 650 buildings and the township of Narbethong.
“ Men who had lived their lives in the bush went their ways in the shadow of dread expectancy. But though they felt the imminence of danger they could not tell that it was to be far greater than they could imagine. They had not lived long enough. The experience of the past could not guide them to an understanding of what might, and did, happen. “
Source:  Judge Leonard Stretton, authority presiding over the Royal Commission into the Black Friday Fires.
3-4 March 1942
Fires in South Gippsland caused one human fatality, large losses of stock and destroyed more than 20 homes and 2 farms.
22 December 1943
The first major fire of the 1943/44 season occurred near Wangaratta, killing ten people and burning hundreds of hectares of grassland.
14 January - 14 February 1944
Fires in the Western Districts destroyed over 500 houses and caused huge losses in the pastoral industry. Four or more grass fires near Hamilton, Dunkeld, Skipton and Lake Bolac burnt approximately 440,000 hectares in eight hours.
Records indicate that between fifteen and twenty people died as a result of these fires. The total area covered by grass fires that season was estimated to be in the order of 1 million hectares.

One of the many bushfires of 1944 occurred on the outskirts of Melbourne at bayside Beaumaris. It burnt an area of 280 ha, directly threatening 118 houses, of which 58 were destroyed and 8 were damaged.
5 February 1952
A fire that originated on the Hume Highway near Benalla burnt approximately 100,000 hectares and caused the deaths of several people.
14-16 January 1962
Fires in the Dandenong Ranges and on the outskirts of Melbourne caused thirty three fatalities and destroyed over 450 houses. Areas severely affected include The Basin, Christmas Hills, Kinglake, St Andrews, Hurstbridge, Warrandyte and Mitcham.
17 January 1965
A major grass fire burning near Longwood in Northern Victoria caused seven fatalities and burnt six houses.
21 February - 13 March 1965
Records indicate that between fifteen and twenty people died as a result of these fires. The total area covered by grass fires that season was estimated to be in the order of 1 million hectares.

One of the many bushfires of 1944 occurred on the outskirts of Melbourne at bayside Beaumaris. It burnt an area of 280 ha, directly threatening 118 houses, of which 58 were destroyed and 8 were damaged.
5 February 1952
A fire that originated on the Hume Highway near Benalla burnt approximately 100,000 hectares and caused the deaths of several people.
14-16 January 1962
Fires in the Dandenong Ranges and on the outskirts of Melbourne caused thirty three fatalities and destroyed over 450 houses. Areas severely affected include The Basin, Christmas Hills, Kinglake, St Andrews, Hurstbridge, Warrandyte and Mitcham.
17 January 1965
A major grass fire burning near Longwood in Northern Victoria caused seven fatalities and burnt six houses.
21 February - 13 March 1965
Fires in Gippsland burnt for 17 days, covering 300,000 hectares of forest and 15,000 hectares of grassland. Over 60 buildings and 4,000 stock were destroyed.
19 February 1968
A fire in the Dandenong Ranges burnt 1,920 hectares and destroyed 53 houses and over 10 other buildings. Areas affected include The Basin and Upwey.
8 January 1969
280 fires broke out on the 8th of January 1969. Of these, 12 grass fires reached major proportions and burnt 250,000 hectares. Areas seriously affected included Lara, Daylesford, Dulgana, Yea, Darraweit, Kangaroo Flat and Korongvale. Twenty-three people died, including 17 motorists at Lara, trapped on the Geelong to Melbourne freeway. The fires also destroyed 230 houses, 21 other buildings and more than 12,000 stock.
14 December 1972
A fire at Mount Buffalo burnt for 12 days, covering an area of approximately 12,140 hectares. This area included 7,400 hectares of State forest and 4,520 hectares of National Park.
12 February 1977
Widespread fires occurred across the Western District of Victoria, mostly in grasslands. The fires caused the deaths of four people and burnt approximately 103,000 hectares. More than 198,500 stock, 116 houses and 340 buildings were lost.
28 December 1980 – 6 January 1981
A fire started from a lightning strike on December 28, 1980 and continued to burn through until
6 January 1981. The fire burnt 119,000 hectares in the Sunset Country and the Big Desert.
31 January 1983
Fires in the Cann River forest district burnt more than 250,000 hectares including large areas of State forest.
1 February 1983
A fire at Mt Macedon burnt 6,100 hectares including 1,864 hectares of State forest. Fifty houses were destroyed.
16 February 1983 - "Ash Wednesday"
Australia's most well-known bushfire event. Over 100 fires in Victoria burnt 210,000 hectares and caused forty seven fatalities. More than 27,000 stock and 2,000 houses were lost. Areas severely affected included Monivae, Branxholme, East Trentham, Mt Macedon, the Otway Ranges, Warburton, Belgrave Heights, Cockatoo, Beaconsfield Upper and Framlingham.
On 16 February 1983, 'Ash Wednesday', widespread, extreme fires fanned by winds gusting to over 100km/h (109 at Laverton, Vic and stronger on coast) and maximum temperature in Melbourne of 43.2 C with relative humidity readings of only 6%.
Similar conditions across much of Vic and SA resulted in a deadly rapid spread of the bushfires. They destroyed approximately 2,500 homes or major buildings.
In Victoria alone, these included 1719 houses (plus approx 300 in SA), 82 commercial properties (hotels, restaurants, stores, etc), and 23 dairies. Additionally, 1,238 farms were damaged in Vic contributing to a total of approximately 1,700 other (minor) buildings damaged in the two states. Also a large number of vehicles were destroyed.
Total deaths were 75 ( SA=28 and Vic=47*, incl 13 CFA & 2 other firefighters) and 2676 reported injuries. (*Note that the exact no. of deaths varies at official levels depending on when initially surviving victims succumbed to their injuries). Worst affected areas in Victoria included Framlingham (9 dead, 83 homes lost), Otway Ranges and Aireys Inllet (3 dead, 730 homes lost),Macedon and Mt Macedon (7 dead, 400 homes lost), Cockatoo (7 dead, 300 homes lost), Upper Beaconsfield and Belgrave Heights (21 dead, 180 homes lost).

In SA - Adelaide Hills (12 dead, 150 homes lost, incl 5 dead and 25 homes lost at Greenhill) and in the south-east of the State (14 dead, 40 homes lost mainly in the Mt Gambier area). Of 2676 injuries, 133 required hospitalisation
Over 300,000 livestock died (incl over 250,000 sheep and cattle in SA, 27,000 in Vic, plus thousands of others including poultry, pigs, horses, donkeys, deer, etc) while 15,900 km of fencing and 1.5 million hay bales burnt.
In SA alone, over 10,000km of fencing was destroyed across nearly 1000 rural properties.

More than 1 million ha burnt in Vic and SA during the 1982/83 summer with about half of that area affected during the main fires Feb 16-18 (210,000ha in Vic).

In SA alone, some indicative rural loss (1983) values, as reported by the SA Australian Agriculture Department included: Sheep $5.75m; cattle $2.1m; fencing, $10.2m; fixed assets, including homes, wool sheds, workshops & equipment $50m. These contributed to the State total estimated cost of $200m (1983 Review Team Report).

A total of 4,540 insurance claims were paid totalling $176m and a total estimated cost of well over $400m (1983 values) for both states combined.
14 January 1985
A major fire in Central Victoria burnt 50,800 hectares of land, including 17,600 hectares of Crown Land. Three people died and over 180 houses, 500 farms and 46,000 stock were destroyed as a result of the fire. Areas affected include Avoca, Maryborough, and Little River.
21 January 1997
Five major fires broke out including fires in the Dandenong Ranges that caused three fatalities, destroyed 41 houses and burnt 400 hectares. Other areas affected include Arthurs Seat, Eildon State Park, Gippsland and Creswick.
New Years Eve – 9 January 1998
A fire reported on New Years Eve continued for 10 days and burnt a total of 32,000 hectares. Of this area, 22,000 hectares was in the Alpine National Park (12,500 hectares of which is Wilderness or Remote Natural Area) and 10,000 hectares was in the Carey River State Forest. The suspected cause of the fire was a campfire.
Big Desert Fire - December 2002
Lightning in the North West caused two fires - one in the Big Desert Wilderness Park and another in the adjoining Wyperfield National Park on 17 December. Fanned by dry fuel and poor weather conditions, these fires joined to eventually burn 181,400 hectares.
An abandoned house was destroyed, as well as 400 hectares of private property. The fire was later declared safe on 31 December after 25mm rain fell in the area.
Eastern Victorian (Alpine) Fires 2003
Eighty seven fires were started by lightning in the north east of Victoria on 8 January 2003. Eight of these fires were unable to be contained and joined together to form the largest fire in Victoria since the 1851 "Black Thursday" bushfires. Burning for 59 days before being contained, the fires burnt over 1.3 million hectares, 41 homes and over 9,000 livestock, with thousands of kilometres of fencing also being destroyed. Areas affected include Mt Buffalo, Bright, Dinner Plain, Benambra and Omeo.
Significant Bushfires and the death toll incurred in Victoria Australia
 
(Before this time the regular bush fires went unrecorded)

« Last Edit: January 05, 2020, 08:42:27 PM by the leveller »

 
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