The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Australia is a paradise continent with astonishing nature, wild animals, and beautiful beaches. It is a well-known fact, that Australia is a rich country, with developed infrastructure and expensive buildings. Despite that fact, Australia is not protected from natural disasters, which happen frequently and devastate Australian citizens. Starting from hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes and ending with fires: Australia needs to grapple with all of them. Ash Wednesday bushfires- the second deadliest fires that took away lives of innocent people and destroyed lands and farms.
What year was the Ash Wednesday fire? If to ask any Australians, they would tell this date immediately, as they learn it from school. It all started on 16 February 1983. Ash Wednesday of 1983 is one of the most well-known bushfires in Australia. These severe wildfires went through Victoria and South Australia states, killed 75 Australians, and caused damage to crops and lands of these states.
Where was Ash Wednesday bushfires? The disaster started in Victoria state. This state is considered to be one of the most fire-prone areas in Australia and not only. Victoria’s natural environment is described with high temperatures, dry air, and limited rainfalls during the summer, which creates the perfect condition for fire to develop, especially in eucalyptus forests in Victoria. Almost every part of Victoria is considered to be a danger zone, as fires happen there frequently. Sudden changes of the strong wind also play a role, as they make it almost impossible to fight with the fire in such conditions. Strong wind helps to spread the fire all across the state and even threatens neighboring states of Australia. The statistics show that terrible fires occur seven to twelve times every century.
On February 16, 1983, more than 100 fires started in Australia. This day in the catholic religion is known as Ash Wednesday, but the real popularity and awareness of this day brought Ash Wednesday fires in Victoria.
The background of the fires. How did nature prepare Australians for the terrible event? Almost all of the Victoria lands have experienced dry and warm weather with no precipitations, this weather condition is also known as drought. In our previous article, we have explained what is drought, in case you have missed it, read it after finishing with this article! Well, the drought has lasted for more than 10 months.
There was almost no rain during the winter and spring of 1982. Summer had nothing else to propose but hot air with no precipitations, which, by the way, were less up to 70 percent than in the year before. All that led to a lack of water supplies and little moisture in the soil. A relative humidity- that is how the moisture in the air is called, was on a very low level. Therefore, all needed conditions ( dry twigs, leaves, and soil) were formed for Ash Wednesday Australia fires.
At the same time, such weather conditions have prepared firefighters for upcoming disasters and have given a warning alarm. The Australian government on 24th November 1982 announced a total fire ban, so it was prohibited to make fires in all Australian states. In addition to that prohibition, the government of Victoria states employed more firefighters and bought extra equipment to be ready for a fight with the fire.
The very first Ash Wednesday Australia bushfire happened on November 25th, 1982, they occurred several times more at the end of 1982 and gained new power at the beginning of 1983. From the beginning of February, the citizens of Victoria had been sweltering from hot and dry days, this cataclysm was recorded as one of the hottest February ever. On 9 February 1983, the soil was dry because of the drought and it was an easy job for strong winds to lift thousands of tonnes of soil and create a storm made of dust.
On the 16th of February, a big fire started. Just within 12 hours, more than 180 bushfires were reported in the two biggest Australian states: South Australia and Victoria. The fires were spread over a large area of the two states due to winds reaching speeds of 110 kilometers a time. The years of severe drought preceding the day’s events, as well as the extreme weather conditions, helped the fires to spread over a large area at great speed. The fires were the deadliest fires in Australian history prior to the 2009 event in Victoria- the Black Saturday fires.
47 people in Victoria and 28 in southern Australia- the total number of the Ash Wednesday fires deaths. These figures included 17 Australian fire brigade personnel. As a result of the fires, that day about 8000 people were evacuated in Victoria alone. A state of emergency was declared in southern Australia on that day for the first time in history. More than 3 700 buildings were destroyed and 2545 people lost their homes. Agriculture was severely damaged: 340,000 sheep, 18,000 cows were destroyed that day.
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