Weather Way Back – 1946 Fires

We are well into winter weather now – it’s sunny, dry and pretty awesome. With not much happening locally it gives me a chance for a post looking back at some historical weather across our region. With many thanks to Cliff Last and the Bellinger Valley Historical Society I recently received this article:

As you can see the article details some HUGE fires across our region. In case the text is hard to read I’ve copied some below:


BELLINGEN, TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 1946.       

Bushfires Ravage Our Parched Countryside

The past weekend has been one of the blackest in the history of the Bellinger. Fanned by high winds, bushfires on Thursday, Friday and Saturday swept through over 15,000 acres of district farmlands, completing in tragic manner one of the worst winter seasons for over half a century.  There were two main zones of fire. The first-originated in the area near the foot of Dorrigo Range on Thursday and spread with alarming speed in an easterly, northerly and southerly direction throughout the day. On Friday it was spurred to new energy with the high wind and then with breakneck speed swept through Gleniffer, on to Hydes Creek, and then out to Valery and the Bonville areas. Friday and Saturday were torrid and tragic days in these localities. 

The second main zone was in the Brierfield and South Arm area where the fire reached an alarming point of danger late on Friday and early on Saturday morning. With an increasing wind, which seemed to swing from almost every point of the compass within a few hours, the worst period arrived on Saturday evening and night.  Other zones of fire included the Bellinger, in the vicinity of Bishop’s Creek and through to the foothills and sides of the Mountain; and the Kalang and Scotchman districts.


As you can see, these fires moved across our entire valley – from the mountain to the coast, and from the Kalang to Bonville. It is hard to comprehend the size of the fires – and is a timely reminder of what can happen here. Looking back on the rainfall records of that year (this time thanks to Greg McLagan and the Bellingen Courier Sun), March 1946 brought flooding rains and 453mm – but we then hit a VERY dry spell, with 7mm in May, 4mm in June, nothing through July, and only 4mm in August. With those totals we are going to see a very dry landscape.

Come September we had a strong low develop to our south with very strong, dry and warm winds sweeping across from the west. Here (courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald, via Trove) is the forecast chart for the weekend of the fires:

As soon as fire started it was always going to move fast and hard – and it certainly did. Here is the report from the Newcastle Herald – only two farms escaping the fires at the time of going to print:

This photo (courtesy Coffs Museum and Coffs Heritage) shows the fire moving into the Coffs Coast area:

One positive from the fires was the formation the following year of a number of Bushfire Brigades. This 1947 article details the formation of the Hydes Creek, Gleniffer, North Bank and Kalang brigades:

All of those Brigades are still operational today. The North Bank Brigade joined forces with Bellingen Base brigade to form what is now the North Bellingen Brigade.

We have a lot more information and resources available to us today when fires start, but as could be seen through the 2019/20 fires, they can still create a massive amount of damage, and when the conditions are right (wrong), they can spread very quickly. Winter is a great time to put a fire plan together – and why not go one step further and join one of your local brigades?

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