Next month will see the tenth anniversary of the devastating Black Saturday bushfires that were burning on or around Saturday, 7th February 2009 in the state of Victoria. There were 180 fatalities and the fires covered an area of over 450,000 hectares (1700 square miles). More than 2000 houses were destroyed as well as a similar number of other buildings.
The Black Saturday fires started on 7 February 2009. Approximately 400 fires were recorded across Victoria, affecting 78 communities.
A week before the fires, a significant heatwave affected southeastern Australia. From 28–30 January, Melbourne broke temperature records by experiencing three consecutive days above 43 °C (109 °F), with the temperature peaking at 45.1 °C (113.2 °F) on 30 January, the third hottest day in the city’s history.
One town, Marysville and its surrounding area lost all but 14 of its 600 houses and buildings. Total fatalities was thirty nine.
What started these fires? Certainly there was evidence that faulty electricity supply lines were to blame, two were definitely arson and some were from sparks from machinery. Also there were lightning strikes and spotting from other fires.
Yesterday I drove up to have a look at Marysville.
First I drove to the town of Lilydale about 45 km roughly west of Melbourne. It is pretty well built up all that way. But east of Lilydale is the Yarra Valley and as of today there are 94 different wine cellar doors to visit as well as cideries and orchards.
The following photos will be best if you see them on a screen larger than your mobile phone.
But a little farther along on the road to Healesville we come to drying pasture – ‘cos it is January and summer is here for a while.
The blue haze is often confused with smoke from fires but is actually caused by the eucalyptus oil vapour that is most present on hot days.
I just can’t give you any idea of the quiet and the whispering of wind in the treetops and the smell of the perfume of eucalyptus and peppermint and lemon. But you will have to take my word for it.
Now we are getting to the meat of the pie.
We are approaching Marysville and these trees weren’t burnt.
These were. I told you about the regenerative power of Eucalypts. The trees all show signs of epicormic buds which have replaced the burnt branches. There are many variations in the regeneration of these forests.
The following couple of photos are of Marysville today.
The ones below were taken about ten years ago.
Ten years ago they looked like this;
Look how quickly the tree ferns recover.
But ten years later there are still signs above. All the white sticks are the remains of huge dead trees that will stay there for many years to come.
Forest recovery varies according to many factors;
The fire may have spread so rapidly in front of raging winds that only the top branches burnt.
If the fire was more at ground level then many seeds would sprout. Many Australian plant require fire to promote regeneration but if the fire occurs during a hot dry summer the young seedling will invariably die.
In many areas the eucalypts many burn and the tree that regenerates in its place will be the Myrtle Beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii.) This in not related to the Northern Hemisphere myrtle. They usually grow to 30–40 m (98–131 ft) tall. Unfortunately I am not 100% sure of the difference between the Myrtle and some of the very similar looking Eucalypts. But they are all pretty big.
And even trees bleed.