Fire has been present on the Australian continent for millions of years and has been significant in shaping much of the landscape. Many fires were started by lightning.
Aboriginal people used fire for many thousands of years to 'care for country'. The fires were a tool that encouraged the growth and extent of grasslands to enhance hunting, reduced levels of fuel, and kept vegetation from becoming dense and hard to walk through.
Because there are few comprehensive records of bushfires in the early stages of European settlement, or beforehand, the following chronology includes only those bushfires that have occurred since 1851.
Maps are available for some past fires.
Victoria experienced a significant fire season in 2012–2013. Between December and mid-March more More than 190,000 hectares of public and private land were burned between December and mid-March. A community member and four firefighters lost their lives, and 46 houses were destroyed.
Major fires included the Aberfeldy-Donnellys Creek, Harrietville, Chepstowe, and Grampians fires.
The Aberfeldy-Donnellys Creek fire was active for approximately six weeks, burning 86,000 hectares.
The Harrietville fire ran for 55 days and burned 37,000 hectares.
2009: 7 February, Black Saturday
The Black Saturday bushfires were the worst in Australia's history, killing 173 people. Almost 80 communities were directly affected and entire towns were left unrecognisable.
The fires burned more than 2,000 properties and 61 businesses. Almost 430,000 hectares of land were directly affected, including 70 national parks and reserves and more than 3,550 agricultural facilities.
Afterwards the fires were the subject of a Royal Commission.
2006 - 2007
Fire agencies responded to more than 1,000 fires across Victoria from mid-December 2006 to mid-March 2007. The total area burned exceeded 1,200,000 hectares.
The two most serious fires occurred in the north-east (the Great Divide North fire) and Gippsland (the Great Divide South fire). These fires were eventually contained in mid-February after burning for 59 days. The Great Divide North and South fires burned a total of 1,048,238 hectares, almost entirely on public land.
Other significant fires burning at the same time were the Tawonga Gap fire (33,590 hectares) and the Tatong-Watchbox Creek Track fire (31,810 hectares). There was one death, 51 houses destroyed and 1,741 stock lost.
2005 - 2006
More than 500 fires broke out across the state between New Year's Eve and the end of January 2006. The fires with greatest impact on the Victorian community occurred in the Stawell (Deep Lead), Yea, Moondarra, Grampians, Kinglake and Anakie areas.
There were four fatalities in these fires. Fifty-seven houses were destroyed and 359 farm buildings lost. Stock losses totalled more than 64,000.
The fires burned about 160,000 hectares. About 60 per cent of the area was public land and 40 per cent private property.
2003: Eastern Victorian (Alpine) Fires
Eighty-seven fires were started by lightning in the north-east of Victoria on 8 January. Eight of these were unable to be contained and joined to form the largest fire in Victoria since the 1939 Black Friday bushfires.
Burning for 59 days before being contained, the Alpine fires burned more than 1.3 million hectares, 41 homes and more than 9,000 livestock, with thousands of kilometres of fencing also destroyed.
Areas affected included Mt Buffalo, Bright, Dinner Plain, Benambra and Omeo.
2002: December, Big Desert Fire
Lightning in the North West caused two fires on 17 December – one in the Big Desert Wilderness Park and another in the adjoining Wyperfield National Park. Fanned by dry fuel and poor weather, these fires joined to eventually burn 181,400 hectares.
An abandoned house was destroyed, as well as 400 hectares of private property. The fire was declared safe on 31 December after 25 millimetres of rain fell in the area.
1998: 9 January
A fire reported on New Year's Eve, 1997, burned 32,000 hectares in 10 days. Of this area, 22,000 hectares was in the Alpine National Park and 10,000 hectares was in the Carey River State Forest.
The suspected cause was a campfire.
1997: 21 January
Five major fires broke out, including fires in the Dandenong Ranges that took three lives, destroyed 41 houses and burned 400 hectares. Other areas affected included Arthurs Seat, Eildon State Park, Gippsland and Creswick.
1985: 14 January
A total of 111 fires started on this day, many due to lightning, and took two weeks to bring under control.
A major fire in Central Victoria burned 50,800 hectares, including 17,600 hectares of crown land. Three people died and more than 180 houses, 500 farms and 46,000 stock were destroyed.
Areas affected including Avoca, Maryborough and Little River. Fires also affected the alpine area, with the largest, at Mt Buffalo, burning 51,400 hectares.
1983: 16 February, Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday was Australia's best-known bushfire event, at least until Black Saturday 2009.
More than 100 fires burned 210,000 hectares and killed 47 people. More than 27,000 stock and 2,000 houses were lost.
Areas severely affected included: Monivae, Branxholme, East Trentham, Mt Macedon, the Otway Ranges, Warburton, Belgrave Heights, Cockatoo, Beaconsfield Upper and Framlingham.
1983: 1 February
A fire at Mt Macedon burned 6,100 hectares, including 1,864 hectares of state forest. Fifty houses were destroyed.
1983: 31 January
Fires in the Cann River forest district burned more than 250,000 hectares, including large areas of state forest.
1980: 28 December to 6 January 1981
A fire started from a lightning strike burned 119,000 hectares in the Sunset Country and the Big Desert.
1977: 12 February
Widespread fires occurred across the Western District of Victoria, mostly in grasslands. The fires killed four people and burned about 103,000 hectares. More than 198,500 stock, 116 houses and 340 other buildings were also lost.
1972: 14 December
A fire at Mount Buffalo burned for 12 days, covering an area of about 12,140 hectares. This area included 7,400 hectares of state forest and 4,520 hectares of national park.
1969: 8 January
Two hundred and eighty fires broke out on this one day. Twelve reached major proportions and burned 250,000 hectares. Areas seriously affected included: Lara, Daylesford, Dulgana, Yea, Darraweit Guim, Kangaroo Flat and Korongvale.
Twenty-three people died, including 17 motorists at Lara, trapped on the then highway between Geelong and Melbourne. The fires also destroyed 230 houses, 21 other buildings and more than 12,000 stock.
1965: 21 February to 13 March
Fires in Gippsland burned for 17 days, covering 300,000 hectares of forest and 15,000 hectares of grassland. More than 60 buildings and 4,000 stock were destroyed.
1965: 17 January
A grass fire near Longwood in Northern Victoria killed seven people and burned six houses.
1962: 14–16 January
Fires in the Dandenong Ranges and on the outskirts of Melbourne killed 32 and destroyed more than 450 houses. Areas severely affected included The Basin, Christmas Hills, Kinglake, St Andrews, Hurstbridge, Warrandyte and Mitcham.
1952: 5 February
A fire that originated on the Hume Highway near Benalla burned about 100,000 hectares and killed several people.
1944: 14 January to 14 February
Fires in the Western Districts destroyed more than 500 houses and caused huge losses in the pastoral industry. Four or more grass fires near Hamilton, Dunkeld, Skipton and Lake Bolac burned about 440,000 hectares in eight hours.
Between 15 and 20 people died. The total area covered by grass fires that season was about one million hectares.
1943: 22 December
The first major fire of the 1943–44 season occurred near Wangaratta. It killed 10 people and burned hundreds of hectares of grassland.
1942: 3–4 March
Fires in South Gippsland killed one person, caused large stock losses and destroyed more than 20 homes and two farms.
1939: 13 January, Black Friday
From December 1938 to January 1939, peaked on Friday 13 January – Black Friday.
The fires burned 1.5 to 2 million hectares, including 800,000 hectares of protected forest, 600,000 hectares of reserved forest and 4,000 hectares of plantations. They killed 71 people and destroyed more than 650 buildings and the township of Narbethong.
The fires affected almost every section of Victoria. Areas hardest hit included Noojee, Woods Point, Omeo, Warrandyte and Yarra Glen. Other areas affected included Warburton, Erica, Rubicon, Dromana, Mansfield, the Otway Ranges and the Grampian Ranges.
The findings of the Royal Commission held after the fires were significant in increasing fire awareness and prevention throughout Australia.
Major fires occurred in many districts across Victoria throughout the summer. Large areas of state forest in Gippsland were burned and nine lives were lost.
1926: February to March
Forest fires burned across large areas of Gippsland throughout February and into early March. Sixty lives were lost in addition to widespread damage to farms, homes and forests.
The fires came to a head on 14 February, with 31 deaths recorded at Warburton. Other areas affected include Noojee, Kinglake, Erica and the Dandenong Ranges.
Widespread fires also occurred across other eastern states.
Destructive and widespread fires are reported to have occurred in 1905 and 1906 – and fires extended from Gippsland to the Grampians in 1912.
In 1914, fires burned more than 100,000 hectares. In 1919, extensive fires occurred in the Otway Ranges.
1898: 1 February, Red Tuesday
Fires burned 260,000 hectares in South Gippsland. Twelve lives and more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed.
1851: 6 February, Black Thursday
Fires covered a quarter of what is now Victoria (about five million hectares). Areas affected included Portland, Plenty Ranges, Westernport, the Wimmera and Dandenong districts.
Around 12 lives, one million sheep and thousands of cattle were lost.
Page last updated: 10/01/19