Fire on the Limestone Plains/Bush Fires/The January 1939 Bush Fires

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In Victoria bush fires of 13 January 1939, known as the Black Friday bush fires,[1] saw almost two million hectares was burned, with 71 people losing their lives and whole townships destroyed. Both N.S.W. and the F.C.T. were also impacted by significant bush fires at this time.

Late Friday night (January 13th) the fires reached the F.C.T. in three main tongues: one near Mt Franklin, one at Two Sticks Road (near Mount Coree) and the third near Horseshoe Bend along the northern boundary of the A.C.T.

The following fire report is digitised from the original scanned file:

Fire Report Jan 11 1939

On the afternoon of Wednesday, January 11th, a fire broke away from near Blewitt's on the Goodradigbee River and raced up the top of the range, crossing into our Territory about Mt Franklin, and south of the end of our burnt trail along Franklin Road. Forestry Bureau employees Newlyn and Boyd and our Ranger D. Maxwell attempted to hold this fire during the night and Boyd came down to the 'phone at Pabral camp to advise Overseer Bradley of the position.

Bradley 'phoned me about 10.45p.m. and I advised you shortly afterwards.

Bradley left for the fire at 2 a.m. with 6 or 8 men from Uriarra to trail the fire from Franklin to Ginini Creek thence to the Cotter to prevent the fire from travelling north and from crossing the Cotter. Bradley returned to Uriarra alone to report to me, and on the way home, inspected the Mountain Creek fire from Brindabella Mountain at 6 a.m. and reported this as being quiet. Ranger Jack Maxwell had by this time been sent to the Franklin fire.

Bradley returned to the Franklin fire with a truck load of fresh men from Canberra about noon on Thursday. The driver returned to Uriarra with the original men about 9.30 p.m. Thursday with a report from Bradley that the trail was complete for 3 miles, with 2 miles to go, food was required but no more men and the position was satisfactory. The driver left for the fire again with horsefeed and rations which I took out to Uriarra at 11.30 p.m. Thursday.

Flint, lessee of Tidbinbilla, reported the fire under control on Friday, but strong winds came up at 4 p.m. and caused it to jump the trail, the men being exhausted, Bradley withdrew his men on Friday night.

Subsequently, a change of wind drove this fire back to the Cotter, so it did very little further damage.

In the meantime, owing to the threatening outlook and the alarming forcast, all Forestry employees had been held at Uriarra instead of being allowed to return to their homes in Canberra, and these were the first men sent to the fire approaching Uriarra Homestead, about 8. - 9 p.m. on Friday.

As more serious reports began to come in from Yass and from Uriarra, arrangements were being made for supplies of men transport and food, and about mid-night Friday four truck loads of men were dispatched to Uriarra.

Asst. Forester Pryor was sent to the Uriarra fire about midnight Friday and performed extremely good work continuously from mid-night Friday until he was sent home at 8 p.m. Saturday, and his intelligent and energetic work in maintaining constant communication between several parties at the fire, thus ensuring mutual understanding of what was taking place, was largely responsible for the fact that no mistakes were made which might easily have imperilled lives of the fire-fighters.

The men fought courageously, contesting every inch of country and it is to be recorded that the front of the fire did not actually beat our men, but flying embers lit up the country in so many different places up to 7 miles behind the men that they were forced to withdraw for safety when the pine plantations were ignited by flying embers, An attempt was then made to save as much as possible of the plantations and this work was continued throughout the night and into Sunday when the fire was finally halted after 3500 acres had been burnt.

During the progress of the main fire numerous other fires were started miles in advance and over a very widespread area, each one of which had to be separately dealt with. This added enormously to the difficulties of the day. Men were available in sufficient numbers, but difficulty was experienced in finding sufficient leaders with bush fire fighting knowledge to make best use of the material at hand.

In view of these extraordinary circumstances, of record drought, a record heat, an all-day gale of hurricane force, and a 40-mile fire lighting up fresh fires every few minutes, I consider the results obtained most creditable. There was no loss of life and apart from the plantations, practically no loss of property, which compares favourably with the disastrous losses of life and property in contemporary fires in New South Wales and Victoria. I am extremely gratified with manner in which our own Departmental employees responded and feel confident we can continue to defeat any fire under ordinary conditions.

To successfully cope with conditions such as obtained at the week end, it will be necessary to acquire or at least have the right to burn an extensive strip of the adjacent New South Wales country along our western and northern boundaries.

(C.R. Cole).



See also:

Appendix A - Report for Forester on the fire of January 14th L. D. Pryor 23.1.39.

Appendix B - January 1939 Bushfires Overall Report L. D. Pryor

Appendix C - BUSH FIRE REPORT January 1939 C.R. Cole. Forester, 6/2/39.

The Canberra Times coverage is here[2] and includes a transcript of the 2CA Radio logs.[3]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Black Friday - Online documentary about 1939 Victorian bushfires: Retrieved January 2016
  2. "Canberra Saved in National Fire Holocaust". The Canberra Times. 16 January 1939. 
  3. "FIRE DRAMA IN RADIO LOG". The Canberra Times. 16 January 1939.