February 16

This Day in History

Disaster

Feb 16, 1983:

Brush fires ravage South Australia

Brush fires rage across South Australia on this day in 1983, burning thousands of acres, killing 75 people and injuring another 800. There were 24 major fires in total across the region, in addition to scores of smaller ones.

The summer of 1982-83 had been extremely hot and dry in South Australia. Drought conditions had resulted in dry brush and trees--perfect fuel for a fire--dominating the vast wilderness regions. Although fires in this region are not uncommon, the fires of February 1983 were unique because they threatened population centers.

Wind speeds on February 16 consistently reached 55 miles per hour, with gusts as high as 80 mph. The winds also shifted direction suddenly, making it difficult for the authorities to contain the fires, even with nearly 16,000 firefighters enlisted in the effort. In addition to the 75 people who lost their lives, approximately 350,000 farm animals were killed. The towns of Otway, Gambier and Geelong were hard hit.

Hundreds of homes burned and critical electric power lines were brought down all over South Australia. Finally, about 12 hours after most of the large fires began, the wind shifted and virtually halted the spread of the flames. This allowed firefighters to contain the blazes, and most were put out by the end of the following day.

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