Remembering Black Saturday’s awful toll

By Vanessa Wiltshire

A MASSIVE electrical fault together with record-breaking weather conditions brought about the most devastating bushfires Australia had ever seen.

In the week leading up to Black Saturday, February 7, 2009, Victoria endured one of its most severe and prolonged heatwaves during the final week of January. The temperature in Melbourne was above 43°C for three consecutive days — for the first time since records were kept. Saturday, February 7 was forecast to reach the low 40s, this time accompanied by strong winds. The state was described as ‘tinder dry’, by the then Premier, John Brumby.

By 11am, temperatures had reached 40°C across much of the state. Melbourne would ultimately reach 46.4°C. Strong winds grew to storm force by the afternoon. Then, when the direction changed, the fate for nearly 80 towns and communities was tragically sealed.

The statistics we know: 173 lives lost, 414 persons injured, 400,000ha burned — equivalent to the same number of international rugby fields. Three thousand five hundred buildings were destroyed, including 2000 family homes. According to the RSPCA, up to one million wild and domesticated animals were also killed. In total, more than 20,000 fire-fighting personnel were deployed, including members from the City of Greater Bendigo, Mitchell and Campaspe shires.

Undoubtedly, Black Saturday was one of Australia’s greatest natural disasters. Even 10 years on, the memories are still fresh, painful and haunting. Many still describe the experience ‘as if it were yesterday’.

On the weekend, commemoration services were held in Bendigo and Wandong.

‘‘The events of 10 years ago are firmly etched in our memory as a time of disaster for Bendigo and many other parts of Victoria,’’ City of Greater Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke said.

‘‘In Greater Bendigo, there were two significant fires — one at Redesdale and the other starting in Bracewell St, Maiden Gully.

‘‘Some four square kilometres of land was affected by the Redesdale fire, while the Bracewell St fire covered 330 hectares and threatened urban Bendigo.

‘‘The Bracewell St fire was responsible for the death of a resident and our thoughts are with his family today.

‘‘Today, 10 years on we take this opportunity to reflect and remember those who lost their homes, lives, families and friends throughout Victoria.’’