Eyre Peninsula bushfire

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Satellite photo of the Eyre Peninsula bushfires, taken on 11 January 2005

In January 2005, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia, was the scene of a devastating bushfire in which nine people were killed and at least 113 injured. It was one of Australia’s worst bushfires since the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983. The fire began in farmland north of the town of Wangary and spread to the east. Whilst the cause is unknown, investigations confirmed that it was not arson.[1] It burnt more than 145,000 hectares of farm and scrubland in and around the small townships of Wangary, Wanilla, North Shields, Poonindie, Louth Bay, Greenpatch, and Yallunda Flat near Port Lincoln. Around 93 homes, 50 other buildings and 100 vehicles were destroyed in the fires.[2] An estimated 30,000 livestock, mostly sheep, were killed.

The Eyre Peninsula Bushfire of January 2005 were later called the "Black Tuesday" fires, they resulted in much damage to property and even more damage to local's lives. The fire began on 10 January, and were initially contained by emergency services. However, severe weather conditions on 11 January, with wind speeds of 70 km/h and temperatures exceeding 40 degrees, then caused the fire to break through containment lines and spread to the east.

More than 400 South Australian Country Fire Service fire fighters and 80 fire appliances combated the fire, with assistance from local property owners. The Port Lincoln airport was temporarily closed, preventing additional fire fighters from being flown in from Adelaide. A major emergency was declared for the Eyre Peninsula from noon on 12 January until 16 January.

As the fire tore through North Shields, a small settlement north of Port Lincoln, residents were ordered to leave their homes and head to the beaches to the east. The blaze raged through the caravan park at North Shields, destroying cabins and caravans. Residents at Louth Bay were forced to evacuate and seek refuge on nearby beaches. Some residents had to be rescued from the sea by emergency services after taking refuge in the water.

Eight people, including four children, died in their cars as they tried to flee the firestorm. A local schoolteacher also died when flames engulfed the Shell Museum at North Shields, near Port Lincoln. Approximately 110 were reported injured, including five who suffered serious burns and were flown to Adelaide for treatment. Several people were treated at Port Lincoln Hospital for burns and smoke inhalation. The fire was contained on 12 January after burning for two days.

Property damage included 93 homes, dozens of cars, 15 caravans, two buses, three cabins, one shop, three vans and four boats. There was also extensive damage to rural infrastructure, including water mains, power lines and telephone infrastructure. Approximately 47,000 livestock, mainly sheep, were killed by the fire or later destroyed by property owners. All fencing within the burnt area was destroyed, and about 95% of pastures destroyed.

Recovery effort[edit]

Eyre Peninsula residents came together to provide emergency accommodation and assistance for fire victims at several assembly points. Recovery centres were established at Port Lincoln High School and Cummins Bowling Club.

Within days of the bushfire, the South Australian Government established the West Coast Recovery Committee to oversee all aspects of the recovery effort. Vince Monterola, a former CEO of the Country Fire Service, was appointed chairman.[3] He was supported by a leadership team of 10 people assigned different areas including accommodation, counselling and infrastructure. Amongst other benefits and support provided by the government, a grant of $10,000 was provided to all farmers affected by the fire to assist with immediate needs.