7 February 2009
The weather that day was extraordinary in the truest sense of the word with a record-breaking temperature of 46.4 °C, very low humidity and winds of up to 90 km/h. The drive into Kinglake is rarely easy with little space between you and the cliff’s edge: a sheer drop often without barriers. Now as I drive up under 40 km/h, my biggest comfort is that I have the time to take it slow. On that awful day, this was the main route out of town.
Two fires merged in the afternoon, one from Kilmore East and the other from the Murrindindi Mill. They combined into the deadliest blaze out of approximately 400 statewide. The temperature started to drop just before 5.30 pm, and with it came a heartbreaking wind change that transformed a narrow fire front into a wide fire band. Reaching speeds of up to 50 km/h, nearly double the average recommended speed of the town’s main exit road, the fire quickly swept through the Kinglake township and the national park. Of the 173 people who died that day, 120 were from Kinglake. Many lost their lives on this road.
On entry to the Kinglake National Park, a single sign acts as a reminder that 96 per cent of its land was destroyed by that fire. The RSPCA estimates that over one million animals perished. For most of these animals there was simply no way out and surprisingly, despite its wings, the Lyrebird was among them. As a homebody, it rarely flies only travelling within a 10 km radius unless threatened. Inhabiting the hardest-hit area within Australia’s deadliest natural disaster, the Lyrebird survived. I couldn’t help but wonder how.