1939 Bushfires'Black Friday' - Disaster of Friday 13th January, 1939
The "Black Friday" bushfires of 13th January, 1939 were the culmination of a summer of destruction in Victoria. During that January, 1.4 million hectares of the state burned. 575 000 hectares of reserved forest and 780 000 was forested Crown land were destroyed. Over 1 000 homes were burnt leaving 1500 in temporary accommodation and 71 people died in the fires. In one community at Fitzpatrick's mill near Matlock, fifteen people died - almost the whole community. Many others were killed in sawmilling settlements in forests around the state.
The fire followed a drought and a long hot summer. Very strong northerly winds on Friday 13th intensified the flames. Fires which had smoldered uncontrolled during the previous days combined and exploded.
Fires burned in almost every part of the State on "Black Friday". The chief centres were in the mountain country where most of Victoria's mountain forests were lost. The townships of Narbethong, Noojee, Woods Point, Nayook West and Hill End were obliterated. Other towns such as Warrandyte, Yarra Glen, Omeo and Pomonal were badly damaged. Fires raged in the Yarra Ranges east of Melbourne particularly at Toolangi, Matlock, Rubicon, the Acheron valley, Tanjil and Thomson valleys and Warburton. Alpine areas in the North East such as Bright, Cudgewa and Corryong suffered. The Otway Ranges, the Grampians and areas in the South West were also affected. So much ash and smoke was generated that ash fell as far away as New Zealand. Rain falling late on Sunday 15th January, 1939 ended the devastation.
During the 1940s the Forests Commission organised an enourmous salvage operation of fire killed mountain ash. Timber was harvested before it rotted in the ground. The Forests Act of 1939 gave the Forests Commission responsibity for forest fire protection on unoccupied crown land. The Commission was also given the power to enforce the construction of dugouts - the absence of which had proved fatal in many sawmilling communities on "Black Friday". The 1939 bushfires remain the most significant event in the environmental history of Victoria since 1788, having a profound effect on the regeneration of forests, soil fertility, water catchments and natural beauty.
View the 1939 Bushfire photo collection.