Phoenix Rising K5.
Photography Brisbane, Qld Australia
 
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Victorian Bushfires – 15months later

A personal glimpse

There are images to view - the link is at the bottom. While not necessary - I do suggest you read the below words first, to better understand the images...
                                                                 Trish


For a person who is not a firefighter, but is a fire hobbyist photographer, and who has many firefighter friends throughout not only Australia but overseas, I had the unique opportunity to witness the aftermath of the blackened monuments of that fatal fire that interstate Victoria experienced – Saturday 7th February 2009..... 323 kilometres were driven, 15 months after the worst bushfires Victoria had seen...

To get a better understanding of the clean up and rejuvenation I witnessed Wednesday 19th May 2010, a much cooler day, it is important to step back and recount the history and devastation of that fatal day – Saturday 7th February 2009 – Black Saturday.

The Victorian bushfires were the worst bushfires in Australian history, surpassing both the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983 (47 deaths in Victoria/ 28 in South Australia) and the Black Friday fires in 1939 (71 deaths). These fires were the 8th deadliest singular bushfire event in recorded history.

On Saturday 7th February 2009, temperatures were in the mid to high 40C and wind speeds in excess of 100 kilometres per hour, precipitated by an intense heat wave, fanned fires over large distances and areas northeast of Melbourne, where a single firestorm accounted for 120 of the 173 deaths.

A cool change hit the state in the early evening, bringing with it gale force south westerly winds in excess of 120 kilometres per hour. This change in wind direction caused the long eastern flanks of the fires to become massive fire fronts that burned with incredible speed and ferocity towards towns that had earlier escaped the fires.

3582 firefighting personnel were deployed across the state on the morning of 7th February. As the day progressed, all time record temperatures were being reached, 46.4C in Melbourne, the hottest temperature ever recorded in an Australian capital city and humidity levels dropped to as low as 6%.
By midday, wind speeds were reaching their peak and by 12.30pm, powerlines were felled in Kilmore East by the high winds sparking a bushfire that would later generate extensive pyrocumulus cloud to become the deadliest and largest and most intense firestorm ever experienced in Australia’s post European history. A pyrocumulus cloud is produced by the intense heating of the air from the surface. It is often greyish to brown in colour because of the ash and smoke associated with the fire, it also tends to expand.

Urban / rural fringe areas, farmland and forest reserves / national parks, over 4,500 km2 (1.1 million acres), along with 173 fatalities were lost. The fires destroyed over 2,030 houses, 3,500+ structures in total and damaged thousands more. Many towns north east of the state capital were badly damaged or almost completely destroyed, including Kinglake, Marysville, Narbethong, Strathewen and Flowerdale. The fire affected 78 individual townships in total and displaced an estimated 7,562 people.

It is reported that at 11:20am powerlines are felled in high winds igniting a fire at Kilmore East (Kinglake/Whittlesea Area). The fire is fanned by 125 kilometres per hour (78 mph) winds, enters pine plantation, grows in intensity and rapidly heads southeast through the Wandong area.

Kinglake-Marysville fires

The large smoke cloud from the Kilmore East fire, being blown across Melbourne's north-east at 2:49pm

The Kinglake fire complex was named after two earlier fires, the Kilmore East fire and the Murrindindi mill fire, merged following the wind change on the evening of 7 February. The complex was the largest of the many fires burning on Black Saturday, destroying over 330,000 ha (820,000 acres) It was also the most destructive, with over 1,800 houses destroyed and 159 lives lost in the region.

Kinglake area (Kilmore East Fire)

Just before midday on 7 February, high winds felled a 2 km (1.2 mi) section of power lines owned by SP AusNet in Kilmore East, sparking a fire in open grasslands that adjoin pine plantations. The fire was fanned by extreme north-westerly winds, and traveled 50 km (31 mi) south-east in a narrow fire front through Wandong, Clonbinane, into Kinglake National Park and onto the towns of Humevale, Kinglake West, Strathewen and St Andrews.

The cool change passed through the area around 5:30pm, bringing strong south-westerly winds. The wind change turned the initial long and narrow fire band into a wide firefront that moved in a north-east direction through Kinglake, Steels Creek, Chum Creek, Toolangi, Hazeldene and Flowerdale.

Marysville area (Murrindindi Mill Fire)

Fire approaching a residence in Steels Creek at 6:11pm

According to eyewitnesses, the Murrindindi Mill fire started at 2:55pm. It burned south-east across the Black Range, parallel to the Kilmore fire, towards Narbethong. Experienced Air Attack Coordinator Shaun Lawlor reported flame heights of "at least 100 metres" as the fire traversed the Black Range. At Narbethong, it destroyed 95 per cent of the town's houses. When the southerly change struck, it swept towards the town of Marysville.

Late in the afternoon of 7 February, residents had anticipated that the fire front would bypass Marysville. At about 5:00pm, power was lost to the town. Around 5:30pm, the wind died away; minutes later it returned from a different direction, bringing the fire up the valley with it. A police sergeant said that the main street in Marysville had been destroyed. Reports on 11 February estimated that around 100 of the town's approximate population of 500 had believed to have perished, and that only "a dozen" buildings were left. Premier Brumby described: "There's no activity, there's no people, there's no buildings, there's no birds, there's no animals, everything's just gone. So the fatality rate will be very high." 34 fatalities were eventually confirmed in the Marysville area, with all but 14 of over 400 buildings destroyed. Other localities severely affected included Buxton and Taggerty.

Smoke mixes with cloud over Warrandyte, looking north-east across the Yarra River, towards the Kinglake Fire Complex on 8 February.

To the south of the fire complex, visitors and residents were stranded at Yarra Glen when fire surrounded the town on three sides. Houses just to the north of Yarra Glen were destroyed and large areas of grassy paddocks burnt.

Investigators strongly believe that the cause of the fire that originated near the Murrundindi Mill and swept through Narbethong and Marysville was arson, with several suspects under investigation. And on 1 April, Victoria Police confirmed their view that the cause was arson. There were several other fires as well.

OVERALL STATISTICS
450,000 ha burnt
414 people injured
7,562 people displaced
Over 3,500 structures destroyed, including;
            2,029 + houses
            59 commercial properties (shops, pubs, service stations, golf clubs etc)
            12 community buildings ( including 2 Police Stations, 1 Fire Station, 3 schools, 3 churches)
            399 machinery sheds, 729 other farm buildings, 363 hay sheds

Area

Area (ha)

Fatalities

Buildings destroyed

Ignition source

Fire name/origin

Kinglake Area

180,000+

120

1244 houses, many commercial buildings

Power lines

Kilmore East fire

Marysville Area

150,000+

38

590 houses, many commercial buildings

Arson

Murrindindi Mill fire

Central Gippsland

32,860+

11

247 houses

Arson

Churchill-Jeeralang fire

Beechworth

30,000+

2

29 houses

Power lines

Mudgegonga fire

Bunyip State Park

24,500

0

24 houses, several other buildings

Arson/lightning suspected

Bunyip State Park fire

Wilsons Promontory

11,000+

0

None

Lightning

-

Redesdale

10,000

0

12 houses, several outbuildings

Unknown

-

Horsham

5,700

0

8 houses, several other buildings

Power lines

Remlaw fire

Weerite

1,300

0

Several outbuildings

Power lines

-

Coleraine

770

0

1 house, several outbuildings

Power lines

-

Maroondah/Upper Yarra

505

0

None

Spotting

Maroondah/Yarra complex

Bendigo

384

1

61 houses, 125 sheds and outbuildings

Arson

Maiden Gully/Bracewell Street fire

Dandenong Ranges

5+

0

9+ houses

Unknown, Machinery

Upper Ferntree Gully fire

Totals

450,000+

173

3,500+ (2,029+ houses)



 

25,600 tonnes of stored fodder & grain
190ha of standing crops
168,000haa of pasture
735ha of fruit trees, olives & vines
7000ha of plantation timber
3,921ha of private bushland
2,150 sheep; 1,207 cattle; and an unknown number of horses, goats, poultry and pigs
Over 10,000 kilometres of boundary & internal fencing destroyed or damaged
Over 55 businesses destroyed
About 211,000 tonnes of hay destroyed
Over 11,000 livestock killed or injured
The electricity supply was disrupted to 60,000 residents
950 local parks, 70 national parks & reserves, and over 600 cultural sites and historic places were destroyed.

The amount of energy released during the firestorm in the Kinglake – Marysville area was equivalent to the amount of energy released by 1,500 Hiroshima-sized bombs.

Out of the 173 deaths, 100 were male, 73 female.
164 people died in the fire themselves, 5 died later in hospital, 4 died from other causes including car crashes.
7 of the deaths occurred in bunkers of both fire specific and non fire specific design.

113 – inside houses
27 – outside houses
11 – in vehicles
6 – in garages
5 – near vehicles
5 – on roadway
4 – attributed or associated with the fire but not within fire location
1 – on reserve
1 – in a shed

The only working firefighter killed during the bushfires was an ACT firefighter David Balfour. He was killed near Cambarville on 17th February, when a burnt out tree collapsed onto his fire tanker.

With the above knowledge it is Kinglake and Marysville that I visited, Wednesday 19th May 2010.

The bushfires have had a dramatic social and economic impact throughout both towns, and there is a bushfire recovery process in place in every effected township. The after effects of a traumatic event like the 2009 bushfires are not always immediately visible or apparent.

But to bear witness to whole tiny communities rebuilding, and understanding that life goes on regardless of loss - and apart from taking photos, like many before me, and no doubt many more after me, it was the awe-inspiring, gut wrenching, emotional, numbness and sadness that will forever be itched in my memory.

To drive up Coombs Road and see the stoned gated closed driveways of houses that are no longer there, or to see abandoned properties with nothing left of a life other than an Australian flag hoisted on a gate or fence, or to see the twisted burnt metal wreckage of farming equipment is something that simply cannot be explained in words alone.

You get the over-whelming sense of loss, death, and hardship – and with a vivid imagination and reliving televised accounts of the day – you can almost hear the screams or sense the fear, or smell the smoke, but never in a million years can anyone relive what the people of Kinglake or Marysville experienced – unless of course you were there.

There is nothing more heart wrenching then driving along a road and seeing driveways now lead to nothing. Nothing more emotional then to drive along what was once the main road, and see huge yellow ribbons wrapped around burnt trees, struggling to cover the horror of that day by sprouting new leaves. Nothing more sad then to see a house un-touched while their neighbours’ house is gone, and no that there is a sense of survivor’s guilt.

I drove through these places with my husband and a very dear firefighter friend of the Melbourne Fire Brigade Commander Ian Hunter, and even though it has been 15 months since this tragedy occurred – it was hard not to be affected. Taking photos sometimes felt like an invasion of privacy, but it is people visiting that are helping these people to get back to some sort of normality. I took a photo of a burnt cottage in Coombs Road, and stood silent as I tried to imagine what this house – this home would have been like. I had a sense of sadness but pushed on.

When we drove into Kinglake and I saw the huge blackened trees near the newly re-build police station wrapped in a huge yellow ribbon, it was then that the shear emotion over-whelmed me. We stopped and had lunch at the tavern there, not only putting money back into the community, but to regather the emotions. To be served by cheerful bar staff and the chef – it was hard to imagine what they witnessed 15 months ago straight across the road from them when the petrol station burnt down. To drive around town and see the tiny self contained demountable sheds and realise that this was now someone’s home was heartening.

Driving into Marysville it was just as devastating. This was where a lot of media coverage came from, on the oval in Gallipoli Park. To drive down Murchison Street and see cement paths with grass growing thru and nothing else was eerie. To know that there had been businesses along there that now had gone was sad. Yet on one side a bakery had survived unscathed was un-imaginable to think.

To take photos of where Guest Cottages would of once stood and that would have demanded a high price especially in the snow season, I got the sense of great sadness.
One in particular the Lyell Guest Cottages. It is owned by Ron Liesfield who on his website apologises for any inconvenience caused by the fires and hopes to rebuild progressively. This man lost his wife Elizabeth and two sons James & Matthew. It is unfathomable to imagine someone apologising for not having accommodation that was lost in a fire when he has suffered the ultimate sacrifice and lost his beloved wife and children, yet this seems to be the norm – if you can call it that, throughout the whole region.

There was a poem written by an author unknown and given to the Kinglake Tavern, to which they placed on a wall with photos of burning buildings and fires, and which I will do the same with my “rebuilding” photos.

It is called simply Black Saturday

“BLACK SATURDAY”
7th February 2009

We love to hate Victorians throughout the footy season
Just for the fact they’re from Victoria would seem a valid reason.

They tend to think Australian Rules belongs to them, at least
In the west we simply label then the know alls from the East.

But Australians came together; sporting squabbles set aside
Homes and buildings burnt to ashes, the pain and misery.

The faces of survivors, the tears they tried to hide,
Gave us just the briefest glimpse of how they feel inside.

We saw the flames engulf the trees; we saw the sky turn red,
And, in the aftermath, the cars, where some died as they fled.

We heard the graphic stories of the panic they felt that day,
As the townsfolk faced decisions, should they go or should they stay?

The horrors of reality, their lives gone up in smoke,
The loss of whole communities with pretty sounding names.

The toll we don’t want to hear, the numbers who have died,
On that black Saturday, the day Australia cried.

The worst peacetime disaster Australia’s ever seen,
In surroundings long regarded as being lush and green.

Drought throughout the country had left it tinder dry,
At the mercy of the fireballs that rained down from the sky.

The fires that raged through the hills that February day
Have changed the course of countless lives in every kind of way.

There’s absolutely nothing left of the futures that were planned,
Just twisted tin and ashes and scars upon the land.

Survivors say they’ll build again in their old neighbourhood,
And life will become normal, and life will become good.

But their lives will be so different and they won’t forget the cost,
Of absent family and friends that they have loved and lost.

No matter where you come from, or how far you may roam,
There’s some place in Australia your heart will know as home.

But above all we are Australians, State issues can’t divide,
And we won’t forget what happened, the Day Australia cried.
Author Unknown

** FOOTNOTE**
An email I received needed to be added ...

Just a note about the Kinglake Police Station. It was built around 2002 and survived the bushfire on Black Saturday. The burnt tree you have photographed was ignited by a car which exploded into flame from the radiant heat BEFORE the fire arrived in the Main Street. The Station became the centre of operations for Victoria Police and the State Coroner while all other services operated in the fields and grounds around the station after the initial fire attack was over. It was not till Wednesday after the fire that many services were allowed in to assist while local fire fighters continued to chase hot spots and late ignition house fires (ember attack within roofs usually)

Keep up the photography as they form a major record of the history of such events.

Ray Hutchinson
Ex Secretary
Kinglake Fire Brigade
(well and truly retired)

Images of photos taken - click here