Death toll rises to 96 in Victoria fires

Photo: Tim Carrafa

Police in Victoria, Australia have confirmed that at least 96 people have died in the bushfires raging across the state. Entire towns have been wiped out. At least 750 homes have been destroyed and more than 815,000 acres have burned. Twenty-two people remain in hospitals with serious burns, 10 of them in a critical condition.

The Kinglake fire. Photo: Jake Valance

Most of the damage was done by two massive fires – one that virtually wiped out towns northeast of Melbourne including Kinglake and Marysville, and a second fire that burned across Gippsland.

Houses destroyed in the Kinglake fire. Photo courtesy of Channel 7 helicopter.

The toll passes the Black Friday holocaust of 1939 in which 71 were killed, and the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983, which claimed 47 Victorians.

A well-known TV anchorman, Brian Naylor, formerly of Nine Network, was killed when the Kinglake Complex fire burned his property on Saturday.

Click on the map of Victoria below to see a larger version.
The following map is open to editing by anyone, so we can’t vouch for it’s accuracy. Click on “View Larger Map” then zoom in and click on the icons to see detailed information and some fire perimeters.

View Larger Map


Richard Hoyle, a firefighter from Ballarat, had been battling the Kinglake blaze since 5pm yesterday. He told the Herald Sun it was the worst fire he had seen in eight years on the job.

He said he had passed at least two dozen burnt-out cars that had been involved in multiple collisions or had been abandoned on the Whittlesea-Kinglake Rd.

He described the scene as “a holocaust”.

“The road is riddled with burnt-out cars involved in multiple collisions and debris,” Mr Hoyle said.
“Trees on the side of the road that are still burning and they are just falling all over the road. There is really nothing left.”

Blogging on Twitter another CFA volunteer said he probably wouldn’t recover from what he had seen today. “7th February 2009 will go down in history for all the wrong reasons. I hope people are safe, especially after what I have seen.”

Raylene Kincaide, a resident of Narbethong, northeast of Melbourne, said her home had been destroyed and there was little left of the town. “Everyone we know has lost everything they had,” she told ABC Radio. “I’ve been in Ash Wednesday but this is probably worse.”

But not everyone has been so lucky. Mary Avola told the Herald Sun her husband of 43 years was killed in the bushfires overnight.

Mechanic Peter Avola, 67, perished after he and his wife decided to flee their endangered home in separate cars.

“He was behind me in another car. He was behind me for a while and we tried to reach the oval but the gates were locked,” Mrs Avola said. “He just told me to go and that’s the last time I saw him.

Peter Avola’s body was found near his car on the property the next morning. It is believed he ran from the vehicle across a paddock fearing a gas cylinder in the car would explode.

Near Labertouche, east of Melbourne. Photo: Alex Coppel

From The Australian, here is the story of a family living near Kinglake National Park that barely survived:

Around 4.30am, a friend in the Country Fire Authority phoned them and warned them of a fire.

They threw a couple of things in their car, a bag of nappies and a computer hard drive, but the fire was already on them, roaring, says Parkinson, “like a jet engine”.

Halfway down the road, they were blocked by flames. They went back to their old mudbrick house, along with three other families, including Christine Halls, her husband, Paul Simmons, and their 13-month-old son, Aidan.

As they sheltered under blankets, the fire took hold of the house, “falling in around us”, says Ms Halls. “It was just terrifying. They say a bushfire sounds like a freight train coming, but it sounded like a freight train as big as the entire space you could see, the entire horizon. It was that much noise and force. The sound was incredible.”

They ran. In the dark and smoke, the families were separated. Ms Halls and her family clambered into a car to wait it out.

Ms Parkinson’s family made for
the creek. “As we left th
e house, I thought we were going to die,” she says. “The two front rooms were ablaze. I couldn’t see. It was black. We went down to the creek and we hid in the creek, didn’t we,” she says to her son.

“And this little one was so brave, under the blanket. We had a blanket over us in the creek and we huddled with the dog and two neighbours and two lyrebirds.

“It was shallow, a summer creek, but there was just enough water, a puddle. We sat in a muddy puddle under a wet blanket and the fire went through us.”

When they came up out of the creek, of the 20-odd homes that had been in Ninks Road, only three or four were still standing.

Our thoughts and condolences are with the Australians affected by this tragedy.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.