09
Feb
09

Photographs: ‘Melbourne firestorm’ by Marcus Bunyan

Date: 7th February 2009

 

Melbourne’s hottest day ever 46.4 degrees. Firestorms to the north of the city, Port Phillip Bay completely obscured, very strange light seen from 48th floor. The day, 7th February 2009, is now known as ‘Black Saturday bushfires’. 180 people died and 414 were injured as a result of the fires.

It was a very scary day. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have been there, up close. My condolences to all those that lost loved ones.

Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Marcus

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'On Port Phillip Bay' 2009

 

Port Phillip Bay in the morning from the 48th floor of a tower in Southbank, Melbourne

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'On Port Phillip Bay' 2009

 

Port Phillip Bay during firestorm, in the afternoon from the 48th floor of a tower in Southbank, Melbourne

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Looking towards the docks, Melbourne' 2009

 

Looking towards the docks, Melbourne, during the firestorm

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Looking across the city' 2009

 

Looking across the city with the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel (at the time called the Southern Star) in the foreground

 

 

Black Saturday bushfires

The Black Saturday bushfires were a series of bushfires that ignited or were burning across the Australian state of Victoria on and around Saturday, 7 February 2009 and were Australia’s all-time worst bushfire disasters. The fires occurred during extreme bushfire-weather conditions and resulted in Australia’s highest ever loss of life from a bushfire; there were 180 fatalities, and 414 were injured as a result of the fires.

As many as 400 individual fires were recorded on 7 February. Following the events of 7 February 2009 and its aftermath, that day has become widely referred to in Australia as Black Saturday.

 

Background

A week before the fires, a significant heatwave affected southeastern Australia. From 28-30 January, Melbourne broke temperature records by experiencing three consecutive days above 43 °C (109 °F), with the temperature peaking at 45.1 °C (113.2 °F) on 30 January, the third hottest day in the city’s history.

The wave of heat was caused by a slow moving high-pressure system that settled over the Tasman Sea, with a combination of an intense tropical low located off the North West Australian coast and a monsoon trough over northern Australia, which produced ideal conditions for hot tropical air to be directed down over southeastern Australia.

The February fires commenced on a day when several localities across the state, including Melbourne, recorded their highest temperatures since records began in 1859. On 6 February 2009 – the day before the fires started – the Premier of Victoria John Brumby issued a warning about the extreme weather conditions expected on 7 February: “It’s just as bad a day as you can imagine and on top of that the state is just tinder-dry. People need to exercise real common sense tomorrow”. The Premier went on to state that it was expected to be the “worst day [of fires conditions] in the history of the state”.

 

Events of 7 February 2009

A total of 358 firefighting personnel, mainly from the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), were deployed across the state on Friday evening (6 February) in anticipation of the extreme conditions the following day. By mid-morning Saturday, hot northwesterly winds in excess of 100 kilometres per hour (62 mph) hit the state, accompanied by extremely high temperatures and extremely low humidity; a total fire ban was declared for the entire state of Victoria.

As the day progressed, all-time record temperatures were being reached. Melbourne hit 46.4 °C (115.5 °F), the hottest temperature ever recorded for the city and humidity levels dropped to as low as two percent. The McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index reached unprecedented levels, ranging from 160 to over 200. This was higher than the fire weather conditions experienced on Black Friday in 1939 and Ash Wednesday in 1983.

Around midday, as wind speeds were reaching their peak, an incorrectly-rigged SWER line was ripped down at Kilmore East. This sparked a bushfire that would become the deadliest and most intense firestorm ever experienced in Australia’s post-1788 history. The overwhelming majority of fire activity occurred between the afternoon of 7 February and 7:00 pm, when wind speed and temperature were at their highest, and humidity at its lowest.

 

Casualties

A total of 180 people were confirmed to have died as a result of the fires. The figure was originally estimated at 14 on the night of 7 February, and steadily increased over the following two weeks to 210. It was feared that it could rise as high as 240-280, but these figures were later revised down to 173 after further forensic examinations of remains, and after several people previously believed to be missing were located. This figure was later increased to 180 after several people succumbed to their injuries. …

Among the dead in the Kinglake West area were former Seven Network and Nine Network television personality Brian Naylor, and his wife Moiree. Actor Reg Evans and his partner, artist Angela Brunton, residing on a small farm in the St Andrews area, also died in the Kinglake area fire. Ornithologist Richard Zann perished in the Kinglake fire, together with his wife Eileen and daughter Eva.

Fatalities

General statistics

  • 164 people died in the fires themselves, 12 died later in hospital, and 4 died from other causes including car crashes
  • Out of the 180 deaths, 100 were male, 73 were female, and 7 were unidentified
  • There were 164 Australians, 9 foreign nationals, and 7 people of unidentified nationalities killed in the bushfires. The foreign nationals comprised citizens of:
    • Greece (2)
    • Indonesia (2)
    • Philippines (2)
    • Chile (1)
    • New Zealand (1)
    • United Kingdom (1)
  • 7 of the deaths occurred in bunkers of both fire-specific and non-fire-specific design
  • 1 firefighter, David Balfour, 47, from Gilmore, ACT, was killed near Cambarville on the night of 17 February, when a burnt-out tree fell on him as he attached a hose to a fire tanker

Location of deaths

  • Inside houses (113)
  • Outside houses (27)
  • In vehicles (11)
  • In garages (6)
  • Near vehicles (5)
  • On roadways (5)
  • Attributed to or associated with the fire but not within fire location (4)
  • On reserves (1)
  • In sheds (1)
  • Unknown locations (7)

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Looking across the city' 2009

 

Looking across Melbourne

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Looking across the city

 

Looking across Melbourne, Bolte Bridge towers in the foreground

 

 

More images from the set on Flickr website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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