AUSTRALIA: BUSHFIRES UPDATE – Sunday 15 February 2009

It has been over a week since the bushfires in Victoria took a turn for the worse. Bushfires had been burning in heatwave affected Victoria for some time previous to the conflagration that took place last Saturday, but it was on that day that they turned deadly.

A week since that deadly day and the death toll remains unclear, with 181 confirmed dead and some 120 people still missing, feared dead. Over 1800 homes have been destroyed, along with many other buildings including churches, schools, police stations and shops. The damage bill is expected to run into the billions of dollars.

Whatever way you look at it, this bushfire crisis is a major disaster and the worst to have ever come to Australia. All other disasters fade away in contrast to this.

The death toll breaks down to this:

Callignee Upper
















Steels Creek


St Andrews


Arthurs Creek


Yarra Glen












Heathcote Junction




Kinglake West

















Thus far we know that some of the fires were started by lightening strikes and arsonists. It is now thought that at least one of the fires may have been started by poorly maintained electrical infrastructure near Kilmore East. A class action against the private contractor SP Ausnet (Singapore based) is being planned. Over 100 people died from a blaze in the Kilmore East area.

ABOVE: Another theft of a bushfire appeal collection tin


In the midst of Australia’s worst peacetime disaster that has claimed 183 lives plus (possibly in excess of 300), left 7000 homeless, destroyed 1000 houses and countless other buildings, their is now a fear that bushfires will merge and create a gigantic super-fire that could erupt by the coming weekend into another firestorm.

Bushfires continue to rage across Victoria, with some 23 fires still regarded as out of control. Various towns are still regarded as under threat and the list of towns being threatened by the bushfires continues to grow.

Fears of a gigantic super-fire have emerged following the ignition of several new fires due to lightening strikes between two major fires in the east of Victoria. These fires have the potential to bridge the gap between the two fire fronts.

The 220 000-hectare Kilmore, Marysville and Healesville fire is now only separated by 18 kilometres from the 25 000-hectare Bunyip fire. The threat of these two major fires merging is very real given the strong winds and predicted high temperatures over the coming weekend.

BELOW: Footage of the bushfire in the Kilmore area

Going to Extremes – Flooded In 2

Hey there,

Some of the Storm DamageIs this a long weekend? It sure feels like a llloonnnnggg weekend – like it will never end. I feel like I have been battling this cyclone for weeks already (but only 3 days), yet there is a mammoth task still ahead. However, it is great to know that the major services are all up and running as they should be, which has made the effort of the past three days worthwhile.

Tree across roadI am however extremely exhausted after all of the effort. I have been on roofs in rain, lightning and buffeting winds, been in buildings that were being flooded, hailed in through the roofs and having parts of the roof blown off. I’ve been near swept away in the work Ute, faced torrential waters raging towards me and rapidly rising, and travelled behind cars that began to float away in the torrent. There have been moments when I thought the building I was in was about to be swamped while desperately trying to hold the water out shoulder to shoulder with quite a number of my staff and other employees of my workplace, watched as one of our vehicles was enveloped in flood waters and later abandoned, and wandered around our retirement village in the early hours of the morning surrounded by devastation (yet with very little building damage thankfully). As I say, its been a very, very long weekend.

Tree across roadDuring the heat of the battle on Friday afternoon we attempted to prevent further damage to one of our buildings, having already lost 2 large skylights. We managed to stop two more being blown away just in time. At one point we thought we were going to loose the fight to save three wings of the five wings of the building, as water was about to come flooding into two of the wings and water already entering the centre wing through the dining room and the kitchen. These entry points in the centre wing were then sand-bagged. All hands were on deck trying to hold back the waters – then thankfully the rain stopped for the time being and the looming immediate disaster subsided, though it again threatened during the night.

Tree over roadI was unable to reach home for over 40 hours as the entire neighbourhood around Cardiff was inundated and became a battlefield. At about 5pm on Friday afternoon I tried to get home, but soon discovered that the already wild weather was intensifying rapidly and that I wouldn’t be able to get back to work where I would be needed. So when I got to the main street of Cardiff I needed to turn around in torrential train and extremely strong winds.

Storm debrisAs I approached the main street the road I was travelling on began to turn into a river complete with rapids. The car in front of me ‘blew up’ and began floating away. It was necessary to get onto the median strip to get through the rising waters. Cars were beginning to go all over the place and float away. I managed to get into the main street of Cardiff and to turn around, but I had to return the same way.

As I got back onto the road it was clear that something unusual was unfolding, with water levels rising all over the area. Water was flowing across the road in an area that seemed to have become a large river and infinitely wide. I tried to travel across it, having already become stuck in the middle of it without even trying to enter it. Incredible amounts of water was coming at me and as I approached the Cardiff ‘subway (the road passes under a railroad bridge),’ the amount of water was incredible and it seemed I was not going to get through. Cars were being swept along on the opposite side of the road and the depth seemed impossible to get through. the truck in front of me parted the waters like the red sea and I was able to get through right behind the truck – the car behind me didn’t make it. The journey ahead was something of a battle of trying to get through the next few miles/kms without being swept away in what was now a raging torrent, as water came roaring out of the properties and yards on the side of the road. Cars were being abandoned everywhere, as cars began to float away in the torrent and people fled for their lives looking for higher ground.

I managed to get through, just minutes ahead of the even greater chaos that was to follow. As I reached the village, the scene behind me rapidly became that of a major disaster. Locality after locality was transformed into raging rivers and lakes, with multitudes of cars being swept or floating away, swept into drains and buildings, becoming completely covered in water and being tightly packed against each other in some areas. Building after building was quickly flooded and thousands of people became stranded, trying to get home in the gathering darkness.

Throughout the night the winds continued to grow stronger and the rains got heavier. Finally the storm seemed to just stop. It seemed to reach its greatest strength at about 2am and then suddenly stopped – no more rain and no more wind (for the rest of the early hours anyway). I ventured out at about 3am into the devastation. The grounds of my workplace were littered with fallen trees, mountains of branches and endless debris.

In the early hours of Saturday morning I tried to get home again, managing to find my way back to Cardiff, travelling through eerie streets and suburbs. There were cars all over the place – cars crashed into telegraph poles, cars all over the roads facing all manner of directions and angles, many had hazard lights on but all empty of people. There was debris everywhere, with all manner of obstructions on the roads. There were trees and branches littering the footpaths, yards and roads.

As I approached the main street of Cardiff it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to get through that particular street. Ahead of me was a locality that resembled a lake with cars floating here and there, with others resting on various parts of the road and footpaths. I turned off onto a side road and tried to go home another way. as I approached another street towards my house and turned into it, I wasn’t prepared for what I found. Ahead of me was an abandoned ambulance which had been washed down the road. Surrounding it were a multitude of cars in various directions and angles. The large carpark near the road was full of abandoned cars that had been swept into it and which rested wherever they hit something or the water levels lessened. A car had been swept of the road and was lying against the chemist in the main street of Cardiff. There was no way through what was left of Cardiff and I had to turn back and return to work.

It was an incredible sight as I was required to weave my way through a maze of cars and other debris on the way back to work. At one point I looked down the main road leading to the region’s major shopping complex only to see water, abandoned cars and darkness going off into the distance. There were no people anywhere, there were no lights except for the occasional hazard lights of vehicles and debris everywhere – it was like travelling through an abandoned city after some war.

This car came to rest in a drain at Wallsend

I was of course stuck at work – not able to get anything to wear, having been drenched through about 24 hours earlier.

Stricken Bulk Carrier at Nobby's - Newcastle

Such then were some of the ‘highlights’ of this incredible storm event.