On this day: the Black Thursday Bushfires

William Strutt, Black Thursday, February 6th (detail), 1864. Australian Art. Bushfires.

As depicted by English-born artist William Strutt in 1864.

One of the worst bushfire disasters in recorded Australian history, the Black Thursday fires took place on the 6th of February, 1851, in the colony of Victoria.

Severe drought in 1850 helped to create the conditions ideal for bushfires. An estimated maximum temperature of 47 °C and strong winds on the day of the disaster magnified the situation.

It is believed the fire started when two bullock drivers left burning logs unattended.

The disaster claimed the lives of twelve people and many animals, and caused significant damage to the countryside.

Fifteen Years

I’ve mentioned this disaster before, but today is the fifteenth anniversary of the freakish firestorm that tore through Canberra, Australia’s capital city. Unlike other bushfires, this one burnt into the city itself, claiming lives and destroying many hundreds of buildings.

Watch from 1:08 in to see what the suburban streets looked like that afternoon.

The images below (from Wikimedia Commons) are from before the sky turned blacker than night, and then bright red. All the photos are of places I was on that day. When everything went black, it started raining embers, and the flames started rolling down the mountains that surround us, things got really scary in this part of town. (What looks like lights in the first picture is all fire.)

People I know lost everything, but we got lucky and the firebombing helicopters were just over us and stopped it before it jumped the road to our side.

2003_Canberra_Firestorm-Woden 2003 Canberra Firestorm. 18th January 2003 Canberra_hills-18-01-2003

2003_Canberra_Firestorm-Woden Photo of Woden Town Centre during the height of the 2003 Canberra Firestorm. 18th January 2003

2003_Canberra_Firestorm- 2003 Canberra Firestorm. 18th January 2003 Canberra_hills-18-01-2003 2003CanberraBushfires.

On this day: the destruction of Duckett’s Grove


Rare image of the house pre-fire. X

Duckett’s Grove, a great house in County Carlow, Ireland, was destroyed by fire on the 20th of April, 1933.

Built around 1830 for the Duckett family, they lived at the house until 1916, when a family dispute between the only remaining family members – none of them male (males would usually inherit) – led to the house’s management being taken over by locals.

By 1930 the house was being used by the Irish Republican Army, and when they left the property it was still in good condition.

In 1933, a week after local farmers – who had been managing the estate – reported a minor fire at the house, Duckett’s Grove burnt in earnest over the course of a night.



Today, the frame of the house still stands.

On this day: the Tasmanian bushfires



On the 7th of February, 1967, Tasmania’s deadliest fire disaster occurred in the middle of a summer heatwave.


Destruction near the state’s capital city, Hobart. X

In what would come to be known as the Black Tuesday fires, 62 people were killed and over 900 were injured. Thousands of homes and animals were lost, and the damage was estimated to be around $40 000 000 at the time ($100 000 000 in today’s money).


People watch homes burn.

The causes of the disaster are listed as heatwave and strong winds, back burning (hazard reduction burns that got out of control), and arson.


The Cascade Brewery was destroyed. X

There were 110 fires on the day, and only 22 were listed as accidents.

On this day: a natural disaster in Canberra

Raw news footage of the firestorm that hit Canberra, Australia’s capital city, on the 18th of January, 2003. The disaster claimed lives, burnt nearly 70% of the Australian Capital Territory, destroyed over 500 houses, and burnt internationally significant institutions such as the Mount Stromlo Observatory to the ground.

On this day: the Summerland Disaster

The Summerland disaster occurred when a fire spread through the Summerland leisure centre in Douglas on the Isle of Man on the night of 2 August 1973.


On the 2nd of August, 1973, three boys smoking in a disused kiosk in Douglas, Isle of Man caused a fire that killed between fifty and fifty-three people and injured eighty others.



The fire tore through the Summerland leisure centre, where no immediate attempt was made to evacuate, and the fire department was not called until twenty minutes after the blaze began. When panic broke out, people trapped inside found that the fire doors were locked.

Fire-at-Summerland-complex-581083The Summerland disaster occurred when a fire spread through the Summerland leisure centre in Douglas on the Isle of Man on the night of 2 August 1973.


One wall of the building was left after the rest was demolished in 1975, as there are concerns its removal might cause the collapse of a cliff nearby.

The disaster caused authorities to significantly change building regulations and fire safety procedures.

On this day: the Bukit Ho Swee Fire

Bukit Ho Swee Fire 25th May 1961


Singapore’s most destructive fire occurred on the 25th of May, 1961.



Breaking out in the squatter settlement of Bukit Ho Swee, it killed four, injured eighty-five others, and destroyed over 2800 homes, leaving some 16 000 homeless.

No cause of the fire was ever discovered.

On this day: the Rhythm Club fire


On the 23rd of April, 1940 a packed club in Natchez, Mississippi caught fire, killing 209 people and seriously wounding many others.

It remains one of the worst fires in US history.


Because windows and possible escape routes had been boarded up to prevent people outside from enjoying the music, very few people could escape. Most of the victims were African-American.

On this day: the Peshtigo Fire

The Peshtigo Fire occurred on the 8th of October, 1871 in and around Peshtigo, Wisconsin. It was the deadliest fire in US history.

The Peshtigo Fire occurred on the 8th of October, 1871 in and around Peshtigo, Wisconsin. It was the deadliest fire in US history.

Because a number of fires struck the United States on the same day that year this one is largely forgotten, overshadowed by the far more famous – but not as deadly – Great Chicago Fire.

The 1871 Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin and Michigan

The Peshtigo fire took at least 1500 lives, but may have taken as many as 2500. It is hard to determine an exact number, as local records were destroyed in the disaster.

Peshtigo 1871 before te fire 19th century su history wisconsin

Peshtigo shortly before the fire.

As with many fires around that time – and just as it is today – the cause was a combination of drought, hot temperatures and strong winds, joining to create a firestorm. However there is little specific detail available, and what information there is available is largely from journal entries of the time.