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Fire Fire!!!

Wandongs proximity to the Great Dividing Range leave the area vulnerable to fire, close to the forest and nestled into the valley the township has been surrounded by fire on many occasions. Mt Disappointment has been burnt and burnt often, the forest regenerating after each fire as the native eucalypt does.

In 2009 the most devastating of fires occurred, after many long years of drought and a combination of extreme temperatures and blasting winds the day of the 7th of February 2009 was a disaster waiting to happen. The days prior to the fire had been very hot, temperatures over 43 degrees were recorded in the city that figure was higher further north.

On that day at Kilmore East the high winds bought down powerlines which sparked the fire just after 11.30 in the morning, with a raging wind fanning the flames and dry grass the fire quickly took hold burning at a furious pace towards Wandong. There was little time for preparations, people were leaving their homes with nothing getting out ahead of the firestorm that was to come.

As the fire pushed south east of the town burning all in its wake, the LB Davern reserve was badly affected, the tennis clubs rooms were left a smoldering mess. It took little time for the fire to make its way into the forest where it continued to burn right through Kinglake and beyond.

Lives were lost that day, many homes sheds and animals died in the blaze. The local primary school was saved by the helicopters dumping large amounts of water, the shops on the west side of town were also saved by hard fighting by fire brigades from all over the place that arrived and fought to save the town.

A Royal Commision after the fires made many recommendations to prevent future fires of this magnitude some have been implemented, fire will always be part of the landscape managing the risk to people, home and animals is a big challenge and one that as yet there is no answer.

1874 A correspondent residing at Reedy Creek reports the occurrence of a singular phenomenon on Friday and Saturday last. A very terrible fire had been raging for some days in the Plenty Ranges, extending from the heard of Strath Creek to the Dry Creek, a distance of 12 or 14 miles. The district which is remarkable for a very great undergrowth of scrub and trees is S by E from Reedy Creek where on the Friday and Saturday with not a breath of wind there occurred a continuous fall of charred ferns.

The question arises what caused this fall of ferns. Some think and not without reason that the fire in the Plenty Ranges being very fierce caused a current and whirled the debris of the fire, high up in the air where, being light it floated till caught by a current when it was wafted over the creek and finally deposited so many days after the fire. (Leader Saturday 17 January 1874:21).

1889 February Fires raging all week in the Derril area. The Derril Saw Mills near Broadford owned by the Wandong Timber Company was burnt to the ground on Saturday last by a bush fire. This mill was established by Mr. Neill some years ago and was purchased by the above Company last year and worked in connection with their Wandong mill. (Seymour Express and Goulburn Valley, Avenel, Graytown, Nagambie, Tallarook and Yea Advertiser Friday 1 February 1889, pp 4,5).

1889 Comet Mill burnt down

1894 A more disastrous bush fire occurred between Wandong and the Comet sawmills in the Plenty mountains where a portion of the tramway and a large bridge were destroyed by the fire.(Argus 15 March 1894:6

1898 Bushfire smouldering for almost a fortnight in Plenty Ranges and now assumed alarming proportions – 10 miles wide and within 3.5 miles of Wandong – if wind changes to the south the township of Wandong will be in extreme danger. (The Age 5 Feb 1898:10)

1902 A bushfire spreading over a considerable area broke out at Wandong. This evening the dry timber is all aglow … (Age 13 Nov 1902:6)

1913 Jan The bush and forest are still burning in the Plenty Ranges…the fire extends over a distance of five miles and has devastated much valuable forest timber in the vicinity. .gangs of men were on the scene early but they were almost powerless to do anything. Fallen trees are strewn over all the tracks which are completely blocked against traffic. The Hazel Creek flume is still intact and men are watching it carefully. (Age 30 Jan 1913:8).

1913 Feb After a full two days the forest fires in the Plenty Ranges have broken out again with renewed vigour. The wind changed to the north and the ranges are again burning from the head of Sunday Creek right through the forest. The flames extend over ten miles of country passing Bruce’s Creek and the Plenty village settlement towards Glen Vale. Thousands of pounds worth of valuable timber, chiefly mountain ash has been destroyed. The fire is still travelling in a southerly direction being fanned by a strong north wind.(The Age 3 Feb 1913:5).

1913 Feb Inspector Lincoln described the fire as the fiercest known in the Plenty Mountains for the past 30 years and that progress will not be stayed until rain falls. The southerly wind yesterday drove the fire back towards Greenshields Creek where it is burning fiercely today.(Bendigo Advertiser 4 Feb 1913:7)

1913 Feb The eastern part of the Plenty Ranges was again burning strongly. Fortunately the fires are a long way off any settlement and mostly confined to the reserves under the control of the Metropolitan Board of Works. If the wind continues to come from the north residents are afraid that another series of fires will break out and probably devastate the country towards Wallan and Whittlesea. (Age 15 Feb 1913:4)

1914 Jan. Bush fire in McDougall’s paddock Upper Plenty broke out last night …it appeared to be impossible to stop the fire in the heavy timber…it reached what is known as Wattle Gully but just as the fire looked particularly dangerous welcome showers of rain fell and checked the flames.

•Another fire which had gone over the Mill Range and down Bruce’s Creek was kept under control. (Age 1 January 1914:6)

1914 Jan. The bush fire which broke out in the Plenty Ranges before Christmas has been burning since doing an immense amount of damage to private property and Crown lands on both sides of the Dividing Range increased in vigour…At midday the fire was burning just north of the Divide and towards Wandong… A strong effort had to be made yesterday to save the saw mills from the flames and the tramways were on fire in several places. Should a strong south wind occur the township of Wandong will be in great danger and in the event of a northerly wind the Wallan East district will probably be revisited. It is quite a common thing to see fires start fully half a mile away from the big fire, through burning bark being carried by the wind. An extensive grass fire broke out near the Donnybrook railway station and in a little while the fire covered miles of country, travelling quickly in the direction of Beveridge, Wallan township and Darraweit. (Age 17 Jan 1914:4)

1922 Feb The bushfire on the Sunday Creek assumed gigantic proportions with a strong north wind. Some thousands of acres of grass were swept by the flames and miles of fencing destroyed. The fire travelled to the east of Wandong mostly in timber and heavy scrub country. Owing to the intense heat and fierce wind, volunteers could not go out there being great danger of an outbreak near the town. (Argus 14 Feb 1922:7)

1926 March. The bush fire in the Plenty Ranges is still burning but the fierceness has somewhat abated. Owing to the cool, dewy nights it does not get a good start till nearly noon. The last piece of damage done was out at the White Elephant Bridge (Heathcote Junction) where half a mile of tram track belonging to J. Harper’s mill was burnt and a bridge destroyed. (Age 12 March 1926:11)

1931 Oct To minimise the danger of bush fires employees of the Forests department has been burning off in the Plenty Ranges in the vicinity of Mt. Disappointment to make breaks. Fanned by the high north wind the fire broke away and burnt a large extent of forest country. Crossing the boundary it spread into the MMBW watershed reserve burning a wide area there. (Argus 17 October 1931:25)
1938 Herald Fresh Wandong Fires – Miles of Forest Burn – White Elephant Bridge burnt to ground (Herald 24 December 1938:3)

1938 Dec. Fierce fires threaten to destroy the State Forest pine planatation and to sweep through the Metropolitan Board of Work’s watershed area. The whole of Mt. Disappointment from Wandong to Hume Vale was ablaze. Fanned by the strong gale from the north the flames swept up the side of the mountain from Wandong and now the Plenty Ranges for about 15 miles are a roaring furnace. Bush fires are reported to be burning at many points in the Flowerdale, Pheasant Creek and Kinglake districts. If the gale continues the fire at Wandong may sweep through the whole of the forest area.

1939 was a major drought year followed by the Black Friday fires of January 1939. We had no dams for water so an old underground well that soon ran dry was our only source of house water, then it had to be carted from Epping (M. Scanlon pers. Comm). (Pickett 2011 pg 256).

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