Ash Wednesday 1983

2023 marks the 40th anniversary of Ash Wednesday, one of the most significant bushfire events in Australian history.

More than 180 fires raged throughout Victorian towns and regional communities on 16 February 1983. It is estimated more than 16,000 firefighters were involved in the response efforts.

Forty-seven Victorians lost their lives, including 14 CFA volunteers from the Panton Hill, Nar Nar Goon, Narre Warren and Wallacedale brigades.

CFA commemorated this anniversary with a state-based memorial service on Sunday 12th February 2023 at the Ash Wednesday Bushfire Education Centre, McBride Street, Cockatoo.

The location was chosen following consultation with Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV) and the Veterans of Ash Wednesday Group from CFA District 8 as the location provides an overview of the eight major fires on the day.

You can download a copy of the program for the event. (PDF 9.7MB).

Live recording of the commemorative service:


Leading up to Ash Wednesday there were also large fires in Greendale on 8 January, which claimed the lives of two Forests Commission workers, and at Macedon on 1 February. On 8 February there was a large dust storm, which covered large areas of Victoria.

Townships affected by the Ash Wednesday Fires.

Location Details of fire Losses

Cudgee / Ballangeich

The Cudgee fire started at 1.10pm. A private power line was suspected of being responsible for the Cudgee fire.

The Ballangeich fire started at 2.27pm.

  • People: 9
  • Area burnt: 50,000 hectares
  • Houses: 157
  • Other buildings: 715
  • Cattle / Sheep: 19,300

East Trentham / Mount Macedon

The started at 2.22pm. Suspected cause of the fire was due to power lines arcing when in contact with trees.

  • People: 7
  • Area burnt: 29,500 hectares
  • Houses: 157
  • Other buildings: 628
  • Cattle / Sheep: 7,700


The fire started at 2.56pm in the Dean's Marsh area.

  • People: 3
  • Area burnt: 41,000 hectares
  • Houses: 729
  • Other buildings: 53
  • Cattle / Sheep: 2,782

Belgrave heights / Beaconsfield Upper

The fire started at 3.24pm.

  • People: 21
  • Area burnt: 9,200 hectares
  • Houses and other buildings: 238
  • Cattle / Sheep: 97

Monivae (near Hamilton)

The fire started at 3.39pm. Suspected cause of the fire was due to clashing power conductors on a private line.

  • Area burnt: 3,818 hectares
  • Houses: 3
  • Other buildings: numerous
  • Cattle / Sheep: 1,27


The fire started at 4.30pm. Suspected cause of the fire is a high voltage power line that snapped at the base and fell to the ground.

  • People: 1
  • Area burnt: 200 hectares
  • Houses: 1
  • Other buildings: 9


The fire started at 7.20pm.

  • Area burnt: 14,00 hectares
  • Houses: 27 (including 14 holiday homes)
  • Other buildings: 30


The fire started at 7.28pm.

  • People: 6
  • Area burnt: 1,800 hectares
  • Houses and other buildings: 307

Our Volunteers during Ash Wednesday

More than 16,000 emergency services workers joined the February 1983 fire response, to protect their communities.

Tragically, 14 CFA volunteers were among nearly 50 Victorians who lost their lives during these fires. They are honoured and remembered by their brigades – Narre Warren, Panton Hill, Nar Nar Goon and Wallacedale – to this day. More about these members, and other CFA volunteers who have died in the line of duty is available on the Roll of Honour.

Many veterans of Ash Wednesday remain part of CFA as proud volunteers and staff, or both.

Stories of courage and sacrifice of our brave volunteers came to light again during the 30 year anniversary of Ash Wednesday in 2023.

Many experienced firefighters recall fire suppression and containment were impossible due to the extreme conditions - the speed and ferocity of the flames, aided by abundant fuels, smoke and the challenges of the wind changes. In many cases, crews were unable to reach residents, as fires brought down communication lines, cut off escape routes and severed electricity and water supplies.

These are some of their stories.

Changes since Ash Wednesday

The resources in place in 1983 meant local brigades and emergency services personnel were quickly overwhelmed in the unprecedented severity of conditions.

In the immediate aftermath, the rollout of personal protective clothing for firefighters was accelerated, firefighting vehicles were transitioned to diesel fuel and all tankers were fitted with heat shields. Significant changes were made to the way extreme bushfires such as Ash Wednesday were coordinated at a state and local level.

Since Ash Wednesday, billions of dollars have been invested in new equipment, protective clothing, vehicles, communications systems and other resources to support firefighters in the vital work they do to protect their communities.

Victoria is safer and better able to respond to, and recover from, similar emergencies, largely as a result of learning from tragedies such as Ash Wednesday and the resilience of communities.

More about Ash Wednesday

  • Severe rainfall deficiencies during 1982 produced drought conditions throughout Victoria during 1983
  • The 10 months between April 1982 and January 1983 were at that time the driest period on record
  • CFA attended nearly 3,200 fires during that fire danger period.
  • During February 1983, the weather was extremely hot. Temperatures were particularly hot on February 1, 8 and 16 when readings were in excess of 40 degrees
  • The initial response involved 1,000 police, 500 Defence Force personnel and many local residents assisting 16,000 firefighters with 400 vehicles, 11 helicopters and 14 fixed wing aircraft
  • 8,000 people were evacuated in Victoria at the height of the crisis.
  • 2,000 homes and buildings damaged and more than 200,000 hectares were burnt including large parts of the Otways, Wombat State forest and Dandenong Ranges national park.
  • Remembering Ash Wednesday

    Stories and profiles from CFA members who served during the fires of February 1983. Describing the conditions and the events of the fires that led to one of Australia’s worst fire days in the 20th Century.

    View the Ash Wednesday Commemorative Event program guide and stories (PDF 9.7MB).

    Ash Wednesday 1983 stories and profiles



    Page last updated:  Wednesday, 20 September 2023 4:07:50 PM