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Communities to mark 50th anniversary of devastating fires

  | Shaunnagh O'Loughlin Views: 3586

Tuesday 8 January 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the devastating bushfires of 1969.

Communities to mark 50th anniversary of devastating fires

Railway officials and workmen examine a silo damaged by fire – Lara, Victoria, 1969

On that day 230 fires burned across Victoria, of which 21 were serious including fires in Lara, Darraweit Guim, Daylesford, Bulgana, Yea, Kangaroo Flat and Korongvale.

More than 250,000 hectares, 230 houses and 12,000 livestock were destroyed. Tragically 21 people died, including two CFA volunteers. Hundreds were injured.

Although dry and hot throughout January that year, the weather on 8 January 1969 was unexpected. A weather system that developed in the western Bass Strait that morning brought strong gale force winds to much of the state, causing some fires from the day before to reignite and fanning new fires. 

The worst fires were in the open farm land around Lara near Geelong. It is estimated that the fire travelled up to 11 kilometres per hour that day due to the 119 kilometre winds and low humidity. Lara was almost wiped off the map as the fire burned from the You Yangs to Corio Bay.

The township experienced the most significant deaths with 18 people losing their lives.

The fire in Lara moved so quickly that motorists on the Princes Highway had little chance of escaping as the fire crossed the highway in the mid-morning. 

Some of the 17 who died on the highway had panicked and jumped from their cars in dense smoke in an effort to flee the fire on foot.

Two brothers who sheltered in their car through the worst of the fire front survived. It was the first time that evidence suggested that it was safer to remain in a car during a fire rather than abandoning it – advice that is used today.

In addition to the 18 deaths, more than 40 homes were destroyed, the primary school and church were gone, and vital railway infrastructure was burning.

The other major fire that day occurred in Darraweit Guim where strong winds swept flames through more than 20,000 acres of farmland and crops in a matter of minutes, destroying 12 homes, two churches, thousands of livestock as well as farm machinery and stock feed.

Communications were also disrupted as power poles caught fire and fell to the ground.  

That evening a cool change with heavy rain brought an end to the worst of the fire threat and welcome relief to the state.

The Lara and Little River communities will come together on Sunday 6 January 2019 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the fires and those who lost their lives. All events are free.

 •Church Service at Holy Trinity Church Flinders Ave. Lara, 10am to 11am

•Commemoration Service at the Lara Fires Memorial (next to the Lara Library), 11.30am to 12.30pm

•Community gathering at Lara Community Centre, 12.30pm to 1.30pm

•Guided bus tour by Captain Terry Hedt who fought in the 1969 fires. Limited seats, 1.30pm (departing Lara Community Centre)

For more information on these events, visit the Lara CFA Facebook page.

Photos courtesy Keith Pakenham AFSM (collection)

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CFA Wellbeing Support Line – 1800 959 232

If you are not okay, or if you notice a change in someone you know, contact the CFA Wellbeing Support Line to access free, confidential and 24/7 support

These services are available to all CFA staff, volunteers and immediate family members. 

The support services include the Member Assistance Program with psychologists and counsellors, Traditional and Career Firefighter Peer Support Program, Chaplaincy Program, Bullying and Harassment Hotline, Centres Against Sexual Assault as well as the CFA Organisational Wellbeing team services.

To view the complete range of services visit www.cfa.vic.gov.au/wellbeing