- Black Friday in Victoria, January 1939
- Cyclone and fire - southwest Western Australia: 1937, 1961, 1978
- Hobart Fires, February 1967
- Central Australian fires, 1974-75
- Ash Wednesday fires, February 1983
- Eastern seaboard fires, January 1994
A dry-weather peril
The nature of the Australian environment - long periods of dry, hot weather and volatile natural vegetation - makes many parts of the country particularly vulnerable to fire. Southeastern Australia has the reputation of being one of the three most fire-prone areas in the world, along with southern California and southern France. The Black Friday fires in 1939 in Victoria, Ash Wednesday (1983) in Victoria and South Australia, and the 1967 fires in Tasmania, have each killed in excess of 60 Australians. They loom as dark shadows in the consciousness of residents of these states on summer days when strong northerlies, extreme heat, and low humidity follow a long dry period. Throughout the 20th Century, many other fires have claimed lives, destroyed people's homes and livelihoods, and reduced thousands of hectares of forest to charcoal and ash.
The times of peak fire danger over Australia. Note the tendency for summer/autumn to be the danger period in the southern States and winter/spring in the north.
Very little of the Australian continent is free from fires - scrub-fires may sweep even the arid regions in years when good wet season rains are followed by a long dry spell. In the spring of 1974, 15 percent of the land area of Australia burned after prolific growth during the preceding wet summer dried off and ignited. More generally, fire tends to follow a seasonal cycle: the dry summer months are the danger time for southern Australia, as are the winter months over northern Australia.
A raging bushfire near "The Lynd", north-central Queensland. ( Photo courtesy of Bob Mossel)
Fires and El Niño
Since serious fires in Australia usually follow long dry periods, many of the worst fires in eastern Australia accompany El Niño-Southern Oscillation events. For instance, the disastrous Ash Wednesday fires in southeastern Australia followed failure of winter and spring rains during the strong El Niño event of 1982. However to underscore the dangers of over-generalisation, the disastrous January 1939 fires followed a rare La Niña spring drought in southeastern Australia.