Victoria is one of the most fire-prone regions in the world and has significantly shaped much of the landscape. Our collective response and recovery to past bushfires drive us to adapt to the many impacts of climate change.
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 fuel levels, and kept vegetation from becoming dense and hard to walk through.
There are few comprehensive records of bushfires in the early stages of European settlement or beforehand. The following chronology includes only those bushfires in Victoria since 1851, along with related maps.
In the 2019-20 fire season (November 2019 until February 2020), Victoria endured extreme fire conditions with over 1.5 million hectares burnt, immeasurable impact on unique environments, 420 houses lost, and five fatalities. Communities in East Gippsland were isolated for weeks as thousands of kilometres of roads and critical infrastructure were rendered unserviceable. In addition, the bushfires have had a significant impact on wildlife and biodiversity.
2019-20 fire season maps:
The Lancefield-Cobaw Croziers Track planned burn was ignited on Wednesday 30 September 2015 in the Macedon Ranges Shire in spring 2015. The fires breached containment lines on Saturday 3 October and was brought under control overnight with approximately 70 additional hectares burnt. Further breaches of containment lines occurred on Tuesday 6 October and control of the bushfire was transferred from the Midlands District to the Gisborne Incident Control Centre (ICC) that afternoon. The bushfire, when finally contained on Tuesday 13 October, had burnt over 3,000ha and destroyed several dwellings, numerous sheds and many kilometres of fencing. It had also impacted upon lifestyles, livestock and livelihoods and caused considerable economic and social upheaval in the surrounding communities.
Learn more about the Lancefield-Cobaw bushfires.
Victoria experienced a significant fire season in 2012–2013. Between December and mid-March, more than 190,000 hectares of public and private land burned. A community member and four firefighters lost their lives, with 46 houses destroyed.
Major fires included the Aberfeldy-Donnellys Creek, Harrietville, Chepstowe, and Grampians fires. The Aberfeldy-Donnellys Creek fire was active for six weeks, burning 86,000 hectares. Harrietville fire ran for 55 days, burning 37,000 hectares.
2009, Black Saturday
The Black Saturday bushfires were the worst in Australia's history, killing 173 people. Almost 80 communities and entire towns were left unrecognisable. The fires burned more than 2,000 properties and 61 businesses. Over 430,000 hectares burned, including 70 national parks and reserves and more than 3,550 agricultural facilities. The Black Saturday fires were the subject of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.
2009 fire season maps:
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 northeast (the Great Divide North fire) and Gippsland (the Great Divide South fire). The fires were contained in mid-February after burning for 59 days. The Great Divide North and South fires burned 1,048,238 hectares, majority 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.
Great Divide bushfire map: Great Divide Fires (Eastern Victoria) (PDF, 1.2 MB)
More than 500 fires broke out across the state between New Year's Eve and the end of January 2006. The fires affected Victorian communities in 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 percent of the area was public land and 40 percent private property.
2005–06 fire season maps:
Eighty-seven fires commenced by lightning in the northeast of Victoria on 8 January. Eight fires were unable to be contained and joined to form the largest fire in Victoria since the 1939 Black Friday bushfires. The fires burned for 59 days before contained. The Alpine fires burned more than 1.3 million hectares, 41 homes, and 9,000 livestock, with thousands of kilometres of fencing destroyed. Areas affected included Mt Buffalo, Bright, Dinner Plain, Benambra, and Omeo.
Eastern Victorian (Alpine) fire map: Alpine Fires 2003 (PDF, 570.4 KB)
Lightning in the northwest caused two fires on 17 December – one in the Big Desert Wilderness Park and another in Wyperfield National Park. Fanned by dry fuel and poor weather, these fires joined in burning 181,400 hectares. The fire was declared safe on 31 December after 25 millimetres of rain fell in the area.
Big Desert fire map: Big Desert Fire (North-western Victoria) (PDF, 1.1 MB)
On New Year's Eve 1997, a fire burned over 32,000 hectares in 10 days; 22,000 hectares in the Alpine National Park and 10,000 hectares in the Carey River State Forest. The suspected cause was a campfire.
On 21 January, five major fires broke out in Arthurs Seat, Creswick, the Dandenong Ranges, Eildon State Park, and Gippsland. Fires in the Dandenong Ranges took three lives, destroyed 41 houses, and burned 400 hectares.
Due to lightning on 14 January, 111 fires started on this day and took two weeks to bring under control. A significant 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 destroyed. Areas affected including Avoca, Maryborough and Little River. Fires also affected the alpine region at Mt Buffalo, burning 51,400 hectares.
1983, Ash Wednesday
On 16 February, over 100 fires burned 210,000 hectares and 47 people died. Over 27,000 stock and 2,000 houses were destroyed.Monivae, Branxholme, East Trentham, Mt Macedon, the Otway Ranges, Warburton, Belgrave Heights, Cockatoo, Beaconsfield Upper and Framlingham were severely affected.
1986 fire season map: Public land areas affected by fires in 1983 (PDF, 392.5 KB)
Learn more about the Ash Wednesday bushfires.
On 31 January, fires in the Cann River forest district burned more than 250,000 hectares, including large state forest areas.
On 1 February, a fire at Mt Macedon burned 6,100 hectares, including 1,864 hectares of state forest and 50 houses destroyed.
From 28 December to 6 January, a fire started from a lightning strike, burning 119,000 hectares in the Sunset Country and the Big Desert.
On 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. In addition, 198,500 stock, 116 houses and 340 other buildings were destroyed in the fires.
From 14 December, a fire at Mount Buffalo burned for 12 days, covering about 12,140 hectares. This included 7,400 hectares of state forest and 4,520 hectares of national park.
On January 8, 280 fires broke out, burning 250,000 hectares. Lara, Daylesford, Dulgana, Yea, Darraweit Guim, Kangaroo Flat and Korongvale were affected. 23 people died. 17 motorists were trapped on the highway between Geelong and Melbourne. The fires destroyed 230 houses, 21 other buildings, and more than 12,000 stock.
From 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. On 17 January, a grass fire near Longwood in Northern Victoria killed seven people and burned six houses.
From 14 to 16 January, fires in the Dandenong Ranges and Melbourne's outskirts killed 32 and destroyed more than 450 houses. Areas affected included The Basin, Christmas Hills, Kinglake, St Andrews, Hurstbridge, Warrandyte and Mitcham.
On 5 February, a fire that originated on the Hume Highway near Benalla burned over 100,000 hectares and killed several people.
From 14 January to 14 February, fires in the Western Districts destroyed over 500 houses and caused considerable losses in the pastoral industry. Four or more grass fires near Hamilton, Dunkeld, Skipton and Lake Bolac burned over 440,000 hectares in eight hours. Between 15 and 20 people died. The total area covered by grass fires that season was over 1 million hectares.
The first major fire of the 1943–44 season occurred near Wangaratta. It killed 10 people and burned hundreds of hectares of grassland. Not Done
On 3 March, fires in South Gippsland killed one person, caused significant stock losses, and destroyed more than 20 homes and two farms.
1938-1939, Black Friday
Fires burned from December 1938 to January 1939. The peaked of these fires was known as Black Friday (Friday 13 January). 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. The fires 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 Royal Commission's findings from the Black Saturday fires significantly increased fire awareness and prevention throughout Australia.
1938-1939 fire season maps:
Learn more about the Black Friday bushfires.
Fires occurred in many districts across Victoria throughout the summer period. Large areas of Gippsland's state forest were burned, and nine people were killed.
Forest fires burned across large areas of Gippsland throughout February and into early March. Sixty people were killed, with widespread damage to farms, homes, and forests. Fires intensified 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.
In 1905 and 1906, destructive and widespread fires are reported.
In 1912, Fires extended from Gippsland to the Grampians
In 1914, fires burned more than 100,000 hectares.
In 1919, extensive fires occurred in the Otway Ranges.
1898, Red Tuesday
On 1 February, fires burned 260,000 hectares in South Gippsland. As a result, 12 people were killed and over 2,000 buildings were destroyed.
1851, Black Thursday
On 6 February, 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. 12 people were killed and 1 million sheep and thousands of cattle perished.
Page last updated: 01/07/21