Gippsland Bushfires…

Summer has hit SE Australia with avengance this week. After next to no rainfall in January again, Gippsland and much of Victoria is tinder dry and volatile. Large fires have being burning out of control not too far east of me near where I once lived in the Strzelecki ranges. What was 3 fires 3 days ago is now 1 complex of some 6500 hectares. Property losses yesterday are estimated somewhere between 10-20 homes. No human loss thankfully but no doubt a somewhat untold level of fauna and habitat loss. A friend we know on a rural property near Boolarra left his property and luckily on his return their house was saved yet everything else burnt out (sheds,motorbikes, equipment etc). I would suspect at least one of these inital blazes being deliberately lit due to their initial proximity to the Strzelecki HWY between Mirboo Nth and Morwell. Where in 2006 a large fire on a devastating total fireban day had been deliberately lit by a woman that took her son out there and set it alight…WHY ? Who knows ?!

Bushfires and their devastating capacity and threat in the SE is similar to the threat and capacity of tropical cyclones in the north…both are unstoppable and destroy pretty much anything in their paths.

Jan 31, 11:52am Fire map from the DSE : Fire Map 

Gippsland is what I believe to be one of the most diverse regions in the country. With this seems to come periodical seasons of flooding rains and intense summer bushfires – among the fiercest in the world. The last 3 years have seen 3 major flood events in the region and the longest running bushfire in ‘modern’ Australian history. This being the 2006-2007 fires that merged into basically one massive complex burning an approximate 1,200,000 hectares over what I recall being around 70days !
The most devastating of these days was Dec.14, 2006 – I recall it vividly. This was a day of searing heat and gale force north winds. A Total Fire Ban was in place as there was already a number fires classified as ‘GOING’ (ie out of control). With the addition of firebugs on this day the situation exploded exponentially to say the least.
 I spent this day in the Latrobe Valley and what I’d classify as the Gippsland plains – an area with ranges basically to the south-west and north. By late morning fires were up and running on the ranges in almost all directions – at least two deliberately lit for reasons that defy intelligence or logic. It was not until the entire region was plunged into dire emergency…as midday turned to midnight, choking in ferocious smoke as the firestorms got going.
  ABC Gippsland turned to 24hr emergency broadcasting with incredible stories from people seeing walls of flames some 200ft high bearing down on their rural properties ! (forests of 100-150ft high eucalypts and this very feasible) Meanwhile seemingly every vehicle that could carry water was, as everyone appeared to rally together to help out those in need. Other callers on the radio were offering everything from places to stay,hay,paddocks,pumps, food – you name it.

   The most explosive of these fires on this day was a deliberately lit blaze beginning near Coopers Creek (north of Moe). This blaze soon exploded and became an intense firestorm racing eastwards and by late afternoon the inferno had covered and consumed approximately 25-30km of forest and threatened Seaton to the east.
As this unfolded the extreme heat of this huge area of intense fire activity (in conjunction with surrounding blazes) added incredible instability to the atmosphere above and generated what is known as pyro-cumulonimbus clouds – which is basically a thunderstorm generated by the injection of heat and smoke into the atmosphere. These storms generated their own lightning which started more fires! They even precipated – raining a black mush of ash down – 4mm was was recorded at East Sale AWS.

   It was bizzarre being flanked with these fires and the sky in every direction being an intense orange – yet it was 6hrs before sunset ! Meanwhile it rained black mush….every car and emergency vehicle having it’s headlights and wipers on whilst getting painted black…incredible !

  Sadly it was at about this time a man assisting in the fighting the fires lost his life near Seaton. I was some 15km or so south of this blaze when the news of came over the airwaves, the emotions of the day and experience were very compelling.

below are a couple of photographs from this day…no added saturation…this is 6hrs before sunset !


‘apocolyptic tree’ – EOS A2, Velvia 50.


‘under the pyro-Cb’ – EOS A2, Velvia 50.

2pm apocolypse

‘2pm apocolypse’ – EOS A2, Velvia 50.


‘2pm cauldron’ – EOS A2, Velvia 50.


more images/larger sizes can be viewed here.

All images copyright  T.Middleton 2006© 

~ by Tony Middleton on January 31, 2009.

15 Responses to “Gippsland Bushfires…”

  1. Hey Tony I was reading the fires were on your side and not Toms, stay safe mate you`ve had a pretty shit week weather wise. Images are sweet hope you`ve got life insurance.

  2. Living in the safe little Hans Christian Andersen fairytale land of Denmark it is so fascinating to read these stories of nature at it’s more extreme. I think most people here in Denmark would do well to learn a bit of survival, to live in a place where nature can kill you. Things are so easy and safe here people become too stupid and complacent and everything’s society’s responsibility and fault, people don’t do enough themselves and take enough responsibility.

    Of course, stupid people are everywhere. Deliberately lit fires is so hard to conceive it buggles the mind. Why anyone would deliberately light a bush fire defies any understanding. People do the most extraordinarily stupid things but still, this takes the prize and really, they should be fed to the crocs for being that stupid.

    I’ve seen the photos before on your Redbubble profile and they’re incredible. Totally out of this world, like a sand storm on Mars. Truly boggles the mind to look at them, must have been some very surreal and emotional days!

  3. It is amazing how certain days can be etched into peoples minds.
    I dont mind fire when it has been ignited by natural causes.
    However I am getting fairly sick of the psychopaths lighting them. We had two delibrately lit fires here 2 weeks back, one causing a lot of damage to a orchard. We had 2 more just days before the big Grampians fire in 2006. And another on Christmas Day 2004. which burnt around 400ha.

    It has just ticked over 3 years since our big fire here that burnt close to 150,000ha that all started from one lightning strike, in the most difficult of terrain.
    Sunday 22nd, Jan 2006 was a day that most people in the Grampians cringe at thinking about. 2 lives lost, 40+ houses lost, thousands of livestock, fences, incomes etc.

    I spoke to a trauma councillor following the fire who was heavily involved with the Bali Bombings, he said that it takes about 7 years for people to get over a major disaster.
    3 years on people still speak of the fire here, as the low rainfall has slowed regeneration of the bush and it is still very visual. I know of many who still speak about the North East 2002/03 fires, and they are still nowhere near over it.

    If these dry conditions persist, we need to expect these campaign fire fighting efforts. Places like the Otways, Far East Gippsland are ripe.
    I get sick of the political agendas by locals, farmers etc putting a huge emphasis on prescribed burning regimes or lack of. People chose to live in these locations, they need to learn to live with the risk and conditions.
    The natural environment has been thoroughly raped over the past 200 years. It is now time to forget about the bush surrounding on public lands and think about the fire risks their own property.

    On New Years Eve 2005/06 I went to a fire near Stawell that burnt 6000ha in 5 hours, some of the houses we saved had 2-3 foot of grass abutting their houses, and that is totally unacceptable.

    As a CFA volunteer I am continually frustrated by the lack of awarness about safety and living with the bush.

    It is a real tragedy to see so many houses lost in Gippsland considering the circumstances being deliberatley lit, however in hindsight it would be interesting to see if those guys could of been better prepeared.

    I look forward to seeing the canopies of the stringybarks fully restored in the Grampians, even though it make take another 5 years.

    Sorry about the rant Tony, but great photos by the way.

  4. Great photos, Tony. I particularly like the first, looking up the try into the orange sky.

    I was watching this on the news… It’s sad that these fires are deliberately lit. I don’t know what must go through the minds of the people who do things like this.

  5. Great article mate! It’s beyond me why anyone would deliberatly light fires in such extreme conditions! Gets me very angry!!!

    These images are fantastic ecpecially the first and along with this story they carry great emotions. That is why we take photos, usually to remember the beautiful moments but also moments like these, and i think you have captured something beautiful under devistating circumstances.

    Well Done

  6. * UPDATE*
    Fires were deliberately lit and police are hunting the arsenists. 29houses lost aand some 60+outbuildings and a piggery.
    Although fire regime has been a cycle in this country for tens of thousands of years now…it’s just that in the last 200yrs things are not quite inline with this…Though I am positive this is not the motive of these arsenists… Apparently 50% of bushfires in Vic are deliberately lit !

    Michael – cheers, Heat is great if I don’t have to work in 🙂

    FlemBo – That thought process is pretty similar even in most Aussie cities too…I still find the size of the 2006 fires staggering – about 36% of the size of Denmark !

    Tom – great comment mate. I concur about people need to clean their shit up if living in the bush. I recall a great CFA slogan…’If you live in the sticks – remember they burn” or something along those lines. I recall the Grampians 2006 fires as well – devastating! I was there about 8months ago and could still see the fire area and regime clearly.

    Beau – Cheers, I agree and am bewildered as well…

    Dylan – Thanks mate, I have 2 rolls of velvia like these from the day and despite the tragedy of the day I love the images.

  7. Today is our third ‘smokey’ day in a succession now…As a positive hopefully this twilight it can help produce a nice sunset !

    Also I just saw on the news that the police are hunting a serial arsenist.

    tone 🙂

  8. yeah seen these before and am still amazed by them Tony!

    and everything on the post so far is correct in my mind, I agree 100% so i’m not going to rant.
    hopefully these morons grow up sometime soon, and start thinking.
    this is becoming all too much of a sad story each year…

    and really hope all of you Vic’s are safe over there! take care man.

  9. The fires and heat you guys are having made the news here in Germany.

    Santa Barbara lost over 200 homes in November when some college kids partying in the foothills didn’t put out their fire properly. It’s always scary sight to see a red sky at midday and have it literally raining ash. Stay safe out there.

  10. Hi Tony,

    I absolutely love ‘apocolyptic tree’ others have adequately expresssed the feelings of disbelief about deliberately lit fires so I won’t go into that. Humans are such weird creatures.

    Jamie Paterson

  11. Amazing shots Tony, those colours are phenomenal. Stay cool over there!

  12. Hey Tony, these photos you took were one of the first ones I saw when I first looked at Red Bubble and wow they are just amazing images. But on the other foot its sad that some of the best photos taken are during a major disaster, 911 for eg, and the fires in your case. Great shots Tony.

  13. Stephen – thanks !

    Cody – yeah we see the Californian fires on the news every year and often the fire fighters from here and there help each other out in the respective seasons.

    Luke – cheers ! yep the beach is a beautiful place to stay cool. 🙂

    Casey – WOW ! thanks mate. 🙂

  14. wonderful images Tony, …but of course a horrible event for those effected.

  15. fantastic tree shot

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