On February 16, 1983, a series of bushfires swept across South Australia and Victoria resulting in the loss of 75 lives and the destruction of more than 3,000 buildings.
Residents recall the day was part of a heatwave during a 10-month drought, with very low humidity, temperatures as high as 43C and winds reaching more than 100 kilometres per hour.
Quick facts about Ash Wednesday
When: February 16, 1983
Where: Victoria and South Australia
Number of fires: Around 180, with at least 100 in Victoria alone
Deaths: 75 (South Australia 28, Victoria 47, including 21 at Upper Beaconsfield on the outskirts of Melbourne)
Properties destroyed: More than 3,000
Livestock losses: 340,000 sheep, 18,000 cattle
Damage bill: Around $400 million (Over $1.2 billion in 2015)
(Source: Department of Sustainability and Environment)
The first fire of the day was reported south of Adelaide mid-morning. Within hours, more than 180 fires had broken out across two states.
They would eventually raze 400,000 hectares — an area four times the size of metropolitan Melbourne.
“The whole hills were alight,” remembers Susan Laundy, a resident of Mylor, a small community inland from Adelaide.
“Somebody said it was like Dante’s Inferno; it was like getting a glimpse inside the gates of hell.
“We were up at five o’clock in the morning and you knew something bad was going to happen. There were sirens going then and by 10 o’clock we could not see anywhere around here because of the dust and you couldn’t tell what was dust and what was fires.”
CFS volunteer Russell Grear did most of his work that day in a helicopter, coordinating crew and making observations from the air. He says he was astounded by what he saw.
“There was one fire front that I reckon was 10 kilometres long and there wasn’t a soul to be seen in relation to firefighting or anything else,” he said.
“People had tried to do what they could to save their houses but it was just moving too fast.”
After a wind change, which turned the long fire flank into a massive fire front, the blaze was throwing up so much dust and smoke that Mr Grear and his team were forced to land their chopper in a paddock for two hours while the fire passed.