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Australian History

January 13, 1939 – The Black Friday bushfires burn 20,000 square kilometers of land in Australia, claiming the lives of 71 people


Area burnt by Black Friday bushfires

Area burnt by Black Friday bushfires

The Black Friday bushfires of 13 January 1939, in Victoria, Australia, were part of the devastating 1938–1939 bushfire season in Australia, which saw bushfires burning for the whole summer, and ash falling as far away as New Zealand.

It was calculated that three-quarters of the State of Victoria was directly or indirectly affected by the disaster, while other Australian states and the Australian Capital Territory were also badly hit by fires and extreme heat.

Fires burned almost 2,000,000 hectares (4,900,000 acres) of land in Victoria, where 71 people were killed, and several towns were entirely obliterated.

Over 1,300 homes and 69 sawmills were burned, and 3,700 buildings were destroyed or damaged. In response, the Victorian state government convened a Royal Commission that resulted in major changes in forest management.

The Royal Commission noted that “it appeared the whole State was alight on Friday, 13 January 1939”.

New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory also faced severe fires during the 1939 season.

Destructive fires burned from the NSW South Coast, across the ranges and inland to Bathurst, while Sydney was ringed by fires which entered the outer suburbs, and fires raged towards the new capital at Canberra. 

South Australia was also struck by the Adelaide Hills bushfires.

The event was one of the worst recorded bushfires in Australia, and the third most deadly, after  Black Saturday 2009 in Victoria (173 people killed, 2000 homes lost) and Ash Wednesday 1983 in Victoria and South Australia (75 dead, nearly 1900 homes).

About Craig Hill

Social Justice Campaigner. Business and Education Consultant. Former Business/ESL Teacher. Lived in China and USA. Dealing with disability. My articles have been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and many other international publications.

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