Heat stirs memory of Ferny Creek fires

Remembering the Dandenong Ranges bushfires.

Yesterday marked the 22nd anniversary of the 1997 Dandenong Ranges bushfires, which killed three people and destroyed 41 homes in Ferny Creek, Kalorama and Upwey.

On 21 January 1997, precipitated by over forty degree Celsius dry heat and strong northerly winds, a number of fires burnt over 400 hectares of the Dandenong Ranges.

John Schauble, Sassafras-Ferny Creek CFA president and lieutenant at the time of the fires recalled the devastating event.

“It was hot and windy day and reached temperatures which were pretty unusual in those days, but what made it significant was it was very windy,” he said.

“It was one of those days where if you’d lived up there you knew it was of bushfire potential.”

The fires started at Montrose and on the slopes below Kalorama during the morning of Tuesday 21 and soon after more fires were reported at Mount Dandenong, Upwey and Ferny Creek.

The police arson squad declared later that all but one of the fires was deliberately lit, though and no one was ever charged.

22 years since the event and the memory of the devastating fires and impact on the local community is still as poignant and important as ever.

With February being the hottest summer month and a 40 degree day on Friday, Mr Schauble urged people to prepare and have their fire plans ready

“For me this was a significant event as it was the first in more than 20 years that our community had been impacted and the first time anyone had died.

“There was a lot of hurt and you can still feel that pain twenty years later.”

“Here is the opportunity to reflect on the fact that we are in the middle of another bushfire season in the Dandenong’s and the next six to eight weeks is usually the hottest period.

“People need to think about bushfires in the summer and make plans accordingly … don’t leave it to the last minute.”