Research undertaken by Luke and McArthur (1978) indicates that South Australia can expect serious fires somewhere in the State in six or seven years out of every ten.
Data on fire occurrence before World War 2 in South Australia is not comprehensive but summarised newspaper reports from that time indicate that for the period between 1917 and 1945 there were forty-four fires recorded. The most widespread fires occurred in 1933-34, 1938-39 and I943-44. In each of these seasons significant damage was experienced in south-east districts, in or near the Adelaide Hills, and on Eyre Peninsula.
Forty-three of these fires occurred between December and March; four in December, eleven in January, twelve in February and sixteen in March.
During December 1951 fires caused by lightning burnt about 450,000 hectares in the eastern and north-eastern pastoral districts. A contributing factor to the extent of these fires was high fuel loads resulting from above average rainfall earlier in the year. Losses of stock, feed and fencing were heavy.
The next widespread fire, known as ´Black Sunday´, occurred in the Adelaide Hills on January the 2nd 1955. Extreme fire weather conditions were recorded in Adelaide during the morning and afternoon, followed by a strong south-westerly change. Two fire fighters lost their lives and damage, spread over a total area of at least 40,000 hectares, was estimated at $4,000,000.
The relatively mild 1957-58 fire season was followed by a dry autumn during which, in April 1958, eight fire fighters lost their lives in a pine plantation fire in the south-east.
Towards the end of the 1950s rainfall was above average in many districts; conse-quently a number of large fires occurred from 1959 to 1961. In 1959 there were two major fires; one near Kongorong, in the South East, covered 28,000 hectares. It caused damage estimated at about $1,500,000, and cost the life of a grazier. The second fire burnt about 76,000 hectares of grassland and scrub near Wudinna, on the Eyre Peninsula.
During 1960, damage estimated at $388,000 occurred when a fire burnt an estimated 6,000 hectares in northern Yorke Peninsula. Two other major fires occurred that year; one near Wirrabara in the Flinders Ranges, with damage estimated at $20,000 in an area of 8,000 hectares; and the other near Tintinara where 100,000 hectares of pasture and scrub were burnt.
In 1961, a fire in pastoral country burnt a large area near the Wilpena Pound in the northern Flinders Ranges.
The next major fires occurred in 1968-69. A fire in the pastoral area in the Far North West of the State burnt an area of about 900,000 hectares. This was followed by a fire of about 8,000 hectares near Murdinga, on the Eyre Peninsula, where damage amounted to $140,000.
Luke and McArthur (1978) report that from July 1966 to June 1972 the average number of fires attended annually in South Australia was about nine hundred. The total area burnt each year averaged 190,000 hectares, ranging from 15,000 hectares to 900,000 hectares depending on the fire season. The estimates of financial loss ranged from $38,000 to $245,000 with an average of $210,000.
Huge areas of arid and semi-arid pastoral country were burnt in 1974-75. The area burnt has been estimated at sixteen million hectares; three million hectares of pastoral country and thirteen million hectares of unoccupied land. A large proportion of the north-west of the State was burnt during the period from early November until early in February.
Fire report summaries included in the SACFS annual reports from 1978 and 1979 refer to four major fires during the 1978-79 fire season; 1,000 hectares at Yadlanue Station and 1,200 hectares at Wilmington in December 1978, 1,100 hectares at Pinnaroo in January 1979 and 7,400 hectares at Caveton in February 1979. A 480 hectare fire was also reported at Meningie in December 1979.
Fire report summaries included in the SACFS annual reports from the 1980s refer to forty major fires during the decade. The most significant of which were the Ash Wednesday I and II fires which occurred in February 1980 and February 1983. The focus on the devastation of these fires however tends to draw attention away from the fact that during the 1980s there were over 830,000 hectares burnt. Ten fires, predominantly in the sparsely populated north east of the state, were in excess of 10,000 hectares each. One, attributed to forty three lightning strikes in the pastoral area in November 1989, was estimated to be in excess of 600,000 hectares.
Fires that posed a threat to settled areas during the 1980s were; Ash Wednesday I (3,770 hectares - February 1980); Horsnell Gully (400 hectares - April 1980); Ash Wednesday II (February 1983); Black Hill (1,500 hectares - January 1985); Pt Lincoln (200 hectares - February 1985); Kapunda (1,200 hectares - March 1986); Strathalbyn (6,000 hectares - November 1987); Kapunda (2,569 hectares - December 1987); Morialta (300 hectares - January 1988); and Kersbrook (400 hectares - March 1988).
Fire report summaries included in the SACFS annual reports and from SACFS incident reports from the 1990s refer to seventy major fires during the decade. Seven fires, predominantly in the sparsely populated north east of the state, were in excess of 10,000 hectares each. The largest fires recorded were; Ernabella (900,000 hectares - January 1990); Flinders Chase (25,000 hectares - October 1991); Ngarkat (50,000 hectares - January 1999); and Ngarkat (110,000 hectares - January 1999).
Three significant fires that posed a threat to settled areas during the 1990s were; Clare (400 hectares - April 1994); Rapid Bay (300 hectares - January 1995); Heathfield (450 hectares - January 1995).
Fire report summaries included in the SACFS annual reports and from SACFS incident reports from the first three years of the decade until the end of 2003 refer to fifty three major fires. Four fires, predominantly in the sparsely populated pastoral areas of the state, were in excess of 6,000 hectares each. The largest fires recorded were; Mt Rescue (18,000 hectares - November 2002); Gawler Ranges (15,000 hectares - December 2002); De Molle River (6,800 hectares - November 2002); and Ngarkat (6,000 hectares - December 2001).
Three significant fires that posed a threat to assets in the Mt Lofty Ranges and the Fleurieu Peninsula during the first three years of the new century were; Brownhill Creek (1,000 hectares - June 2000; Rapid Bay (1,200 hectares - January 2001); Hillbank (350 hectares - December 2001); and Morphett Vale (300 hectares - December 2003).
During the 2 weeks of the 1st to the 9th of February 2001 a fire in the vicinity of Tulka on the Lower Eyre Peninsula burnt through approximately 14,000 hectares of bushland and coastal vegetation. The township of Tulka consisting of 46 homes suffered significant losses with 11 houses destroyed and a further 10 suffering major damage. Many other assets were also damaged including; caravans, trailers, vehicles, boat, rainwater tanks and sheds.
On this day SA experienced extreme fire weather with Fire Danger Indices in excess of 300 recorded on the Eyre Peninsula. Two fires of major significance occurred, one at Wangary on the Eyre Peninsula and the other at Mt Osmond in the Adelaide Hills. The Wangary fire burnt approximately 78,000 hectares with significant losses including 9 fatalities, 93 houses, 237 sheds, approximately 47,000 livestock, and 6,300 kilometres of fencing. The Mt Osmond fire burnt approximately 120 hectares with the loss of 3 buildings, 4 vehicles and 4 kilometres of fencing.
On January 10th 2007 an area 30 km South East of Adelaide known as Mount Bold was impacted by a bushfire. The fire burnt through a mix of scrub, plantation, grass and forested areas. Up to 400 firefighters, more than 80 appliances, water bombers and observation aircraft attended to the fire.
The Mt Bold fire burnt around 2,000 hectares and threatened approximately 60 homes in the Kangarilla and Echunga area. One dwelling was destroyed and numerous sheds, livestock and equipment sustained various degrees of fire damage.