Forest Fire History - A Timeline
Mike Leonard (bio)
1851 - 2015
Original prepared in 2010 by M. Leonard; last minor update 11/’18
A PDF of this article is available for download
The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission final report states that ‘…Fifty-two significant bushfires have been recorded in Victoria since 1851, two-thirds of them in the past sixty years…’ (Volume 1, page 2)
The Report also stated: ‘…On the basis of the evidence presented, the Commission concluded that Victoria has a range of characteristics that predispose it to bushfires generally and to the occasional ferocious bushfire in particular. There are few other locations in the world with similar characteristics…’ (Volume 1, page xxiv)
1851 to 1926
|1851||February 6 - 'Black Thursday’:
Fires cover a quarter of what is now Victoria - approximately 5 million hectares. Twelve lives, one million sheep and thousands of cattle are recorded as lost
|1854||The first Fire Legislation passed
|1879||First Forest Bill brought before Parliament to create forest reserves, management powers etc. This Bill and subsequent ones (1881, 1887 and 1892) are never enacted
|1888||First ‘Conservator of Forests’ appointed (an officer of the Lands Department)
|1907||First Forests Act passed. Comprehensive treatment of most ‘forest related’ matters - far reaching by previous standards
|1908||State Forest Department formed under a new Minister of Forests
|1910||Victorian School of Forestry at Creswick accepts first trainees
|1918||Forests Commission established to administer the Act and manage the Department
New Forests Act provides basis for the current one (1958). The Commission’s principles of establishment are:
|1919||Forestry Fund established – allows the Forests Commission to keep half the income obtained from royalties etc. to re-invest in forest management
|1920's||Earliest recorded use of fire by a Government land manager to reduce fuel levels on public land
|1926||February – March. Including ’Black Sunday’ – February 14th :
Forest fires burn across large areas of Gippsland throughout February and into early March. Sixty lives are lost and widespread damage occurs to farms, homes and forests
Public Land Fire Responsibility in Victoria – a Brief Summary
A State Forests Department was established in Victoria in 1908. In 1918 the Forests Commission, Victoria (FCV) was formed to administer the relevant legislation and to manage the Department. From the outset a key requirement of the Department / Commission was to meet:
‘…The need for an effective fire prevention and fire suppression organisation….’
Responsibility for the relevant legislation lay with the Forests Commission until 1983. In that year the FCV was effectively incorporated into a new body, the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands (CF+L). That organisation’s successors in law have been the Departments of:
• 1990: Conservation and Environment (DCE)
• 1992: Conservation and Natural Resources (CNR)
• 1996: Natural Resources and Environment (NRE)
• 2002: Sustainability and Environment (DSE)
• 2013: Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI)
• 2015: Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP)
Sources for this article include:
Gillespie, J., Wright, J., Calder, S.W., Leonard, M.G., and Williams, B. (1994). A Fraternity of Foresters – A History of the Victorian State Foresters Association. Jim Crow Press, Daylesford, Australia.150 pp.
Moulds, F.R, (1991). The Dynamic Forest – A History of Forestry and Forest Industries in Victoria. Lynedoch Publications. Richmond, Australia. 232 pp.
Parliament of Victoria (2010). Report of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. Volumes 1 – 3. Parliament of Victoria. 1141 pp.
Pyne, S.J. (1998). Burning Bush: A Fire History of Australia. University of Washington Press. 521 pp.
Pyne, S.J. (2006). The Still-Burning Bush. Scribe. 138 pp.
State Aircraft Unit, Victoria (2007). Some milestones in firefighting and forestry aviation in Victoria. SAU – Vic. 3 pp. (Article here)
Youl, R., Fry, B. and Hateley, R. (2010) Circumspice: One hundred years of forestry education centred on Creswick, Victoria. On-Demand Printers, Port Melbourne, Victoria. 278 pp.
Victorian Government – DSE (2010). History of helicopter rappel operations in Victoria. Victorian Government. 28 pp.