2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission - Lay Witness Statements (Final Report Volume 4)

The Kilmore East fire

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Kilmore East is about 90 kilometres north of Melbourne.

The Kilmore East fire began at about 11.47 am on 7 February 2009, near Saunders Road, Kilmore East. It started after a power pole conductor failed, and caused arcing, which ignited vegetation near the base of the pole. Early reports from crews on the scene described a blaze 80–100 metres wide. The fire ran south towards a hill where it split into two tongues: one running south to Saunders Road and the other east towards Wandong. Attempts to stop the fire at Saunders Road were unsuccessful, and the fire crossed the road about 15 minutes after fire crews arrived.

The fire then burnt through about 200 hectares of plantation logging slash, moving towards the Hume Highway. It is very likely that the fire was spotting over the highway by about 1.20 pm. It crossed the highway at Heathcote Junction just before 2.00 pm. At this stage the fire had multiple tongues, with a collective width of about 5 kilometres between Clonbinane Road and the north-eastern railway line.

Between Wandong and Clonbinane the fingers merged, and headed south-east towards Yabamac and the Wandong Regional Park. The fire entered a forested area near Shiels Road in Clonbinane where it intensified. It then moved south-east up the slopes of the Great Dividing Range towards Mt Disappointment. The western flank of the fire was also moving laterally towards Lords and Mahadys Roads in Upper Plenty, reaching the area at about 4.20 pm.

The head of the fire reached Mt Disappointment at about 3.00 pm, and progressed up its slopes between 3.15 and 3.45 pm.

As the head of the fire climbed Mt Disappointment, spot fires were reported 20–40 kilometres ahead of the main firefront at Wallaby Creek, Humevale, Strathewen, St Andrews, Steels Creek, Dixons Creek, Yarra Glen and in the Healesville area. The topography of the area caused spot fires in Humevale to run in multiple directions. As a result, between 3.30 and 5.00 pm, fires from Mt Disappointment and from within Humevale struck Kinglake West and Humevale.

At the same time spot fires developed in Strathewen and St Andrews North, up to 22 kilometres ahead of the main firefront. Once again the spot fires moved in several directions. Generally the fires headed south-east, but they also spread north due to local topography and the fire’s convection column.

A south-westerly wind change arrived at about 5.45 pm, progressively turning the eastern flank of the fire into its head. At this point the blaze spread from Clonbinane to the Chum Creek area. The wind change caused the front to move north, and north-east.

The impact of the wind change was enormous. It brought the full front of the fire upon the Kinglake West township. By 6.00 pm new spot fires had formed in Humevale, Strathewen, Arthurs Creek, Yarra Glen, Gruyere and Healesville. From Strathewen and Humevale the main fire headed north, through Kinglake, Castella, and along the Melba Highway towards Glenburn.

After the wind change the Kilmore East–Wandong section of the fire turned and headed north along the Hume Highway. It also burnt through the remainder of Wallaby Creek catchment, Kinglake National Park, and Mt Disappointment Forest. During the evening the fire travelled north-east, reaching Hazeldene and Flowerdale. Although fire was reported in Flowerdale at 7.40 pm, the main front did not reach the Flowerdale Hotel until about 11.20 pm.

The wind change fanned very intense fires in the Castella, Toolangi and Glenburn regions, and caused another extreme branch of the fire to travel north and north-east towards Strath Creek, and Reedy Creek where it impacted at 8.00 pm.

The fire was gradually secured as it hit grassland during the night of 7 February, and over the following days. Containment proved to be difficult in forested areas, particularly the Maroondah catchment, Toolangi State Forest and Yarra Ranges National Park. The fire also continued to burn in the Healesville area. It was finally contained on 16 February.

The Kilmore East fire burned 125,383 hectares and destroyed 1,242 houses. There were 119 deaths as a result of the fire.

The information used in developing this summary comes from Chapter 5 in Volume I of the Commission’s final report.

Kilmore East

Kilmore East fire perimeter map.

Click here to view the fire perimeter map.

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