Fire Campaigns

Fire Campaigns 1939 - 1983

The Toolangi Fire Brigade is proud to be involved in a number of fire campaigns over the years.  The SE corner of Australia is said to be one of the most fire prone areas in the world.  This includes SA, Victoria, NSW and Tasmania.  Prolonged fires are classed as fire campaigns. 

Prior to 1939, Toolangi had been affected by several fires in 1900, 1912, and 1926.  In 1939, after a long, dry hot summer that followed a drought that had lasted several years, Victoria experienced one of the worse fires in its history.  Prior to 13 January, many fires were already burning, as was the case in Toolangi.  On Saturday 8th, the fire was already approaching the outskirts of Toolangi and being pushed along with hot windy conditions which continued during the following week.  These conditions caused the separate fires to combine and  create a massive fire front which swept mainly over the mountain country in the north east of Victoria, and along the coast in the south west.   A total of 69 sawmills were burned and 71 lives lost, one being a member of a pioneer family of Toolangi.  Over 1,000 homes were burned, and the townships of Narbethong, Noojee, Woods Point, Nayook West and Hill End were destroyed.  Large areas of Mountain Ash state forest, and other valuable timbers, were killed.  Click here to view the map of the 1939 fires.

Although there were many fires during the intervening years, the first fire campaign Toolangi assisted in was the 1983 Ash Wednesday Fires.  The tanker and 5 crew members were called away to assist with the fires around Cockatoo in the Dandenong Ranges, and didn't return home until 3 days later.  While the tanker was absent 3 private trucks were set up with water tanks on the back.  These were set up to protect Toolangi and the surrounding community in the absence of our tanker.  We also had step up crews from Healesville and the surrounding communities to man the station 24 hours, until our tanker and crew returned.  During this time, a fire was deliberately lit on the side of the road on the Melba Highway.  Fortunately, for Toolangi and Castella the wind eased and the fire was bought under control fairly quickly.  The Ash Wednesday fires claimed 72 lives and 2,000 homes were destroyed, as well as thousands of livestock.  Click here to view the map of the 1983 Ash Wednesday Fires.

Fire Campaigns 1997 - 2001

With the CFA being reluctant to send a truck out of our area, (as we only had the one truck and a quick fill unit) we didn't get called to many of the fire campaigns.  We would only be assigned to local strike teams whereas we only left for a 12 to 24 hr period.   If our tanker left the area, another tanker had to be stationed at our station, quite often with relief crews from other brigades.  This was the case with the 1997 Dandenong Ranges fires.  Being a  vehicle assigned to the Maroondah Strike Team, we were called to assist with the Dandenong Ranges fires at Kalorama.  The truck left Toolangi with a crew of 5 at 11:00am and the relief crew was sent later in the evening so the first crew had a break.  The truck with the 2nd crew didn't return until 04:00am the following morning.  There were several fires started on the day, and unfortunately it appeared to be arson.  These fires killed three people and caused $6.5 million in property damage, with 42 homes destroyed and another 45 damaged.

There were other fire campaigns where our members were asked to assist, with or without our tanker.  One of these was the 2001 Black Christmas Fires in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.  The fires started on Christmas day and was in a very steep forested location with difficult access.  These fires burned for a period of 3 weeks and Toolangi sent a number of strike team crews over this period.  These fires are the worse on record for NSW, fortunately there were no recorded deaths but they burned for 3 weeks destroying 109 houses with another 40 damaged and a large number of livestock.

Fire Campaigns 2003 - 2009

One of the longest fire campaigns experienced by the CFA were the Victorian 2003 North East Fires.  Several fires were ignited by lightening on the 8/01/2003, in very steep inhospitable country.  As the area had experienced a prolonged drought, the undergrowth was very dry and these fires were able to spread very quickly.  These fires eventually joined to become a very large fire.  This fire burnt 1.3 million hectares over a period of 59 days with 41 homes destroyed and over 9,000 livestock killed. Thousands of kilometres of fencing were also destroyed.  The Toolangi tanker was sent to Mt Beauty with a crew and the tanker didn't return until the end of February.  Our crew along with most CFA volunteers at some stage were involved along with 160 Defence Force staff, over 300 interstate firefighters, 33 alpine firefighting specialists from New Zealand and 35 personnel from the United States. In total, 15,725 personnel were directly engaged in fighting these bushfires. Click here for a view of the 2003 NE Fires.

A little closer to home is Kinglake.  Kinglake is only 10kms west of Toolangi as the crow flies.  Kinglake has a long history of bushfires, and 2006 was no different.  We were turned out to a fire north of Kinglake under the high voltage lines at the end of January 2006.  This fire eventually burnt out 1500 hectares.  The CFA was assisted by DSE Victoria (Department of Sustainability and Environment), and firefighters from NSW.  It was eventually contained early in February.  Click here for a view of the 2006 Kinglake Fire.

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Fire Campaigns - 2009 Black Saturday

One of the worst fires in the history of Australia were the 2009 Black Saturday Fires.  The Black Saturday bushfires were a series of bushfires that ignited or were burning across Victoria on and around Saturday, 7 February 2009.  This day coincided with the worst bush-fire-weather conditions ever recorded. Extreme heat, high winds, low humidity, and severe drought were all factors in fanning the flames on that tragic day.  This fire threatened the township of Toolangi, and most of Castella was impacted by the fire. Toolangi was saved due to a wind change.  The Fire that threatened Toolangi was started by a faulty power pole near Kilmore East just north of Kinglake West.  This fire destroyed the townships of Kinglake, Kinglake West, Pheasant Creek, St Andrews, Strathewen, with many other townships being impacted.  Another fire was also started by a faulty power pole at Murrundindi 20 kms south of Yea.  This fire destroyed a number of towns including Marysville and Narbathong.   Click here to see a map overview of the 2009 Black Saturday Fires

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The outer suburbs of Melbourne were in the direct pathway of these fires.  If the wind didn't change that day, then the outer eastern suburbs of Warrandyte and Donvale would have been impacted, along with other small communities.  These suburbs are semi rural communities with homes nestled into the hilly terrain bushland.  Warandyte in particular has few major roads and a network of narrow unmade roads.  The CFA would have been very hesitate to take teams into the area, if the fires hadn't changed direction.

Toolangi was described as being the hole in the donut.  We had fire burning on all sides of the town.  We had the Murrindindi Fire to the north east of the town along with the Kilmore fire to the north west and south of the Town.  We lost the power and phone service for approxmately 10 days and we were isolated with no traffic allowed (local only allowed) for 3 weeks.