Fires of 1961
Brief HistoryDuring the summer of 1961 a series of bush fires raged for 41 days across
the south-west of Western Australia . The devastating fires destroyed over 350,000 ha of land and
160 buildings in the State's south-west. The fires burnt through the areas of Dwellingup, Mavanup, Pemberton,
Shannon River and Kudardup (near Margaret River ). The first fires started early evening on the 19th of January,as a series of
thunderstorms swept through the state following several days of hot and humid weather . At around 6pm reports
began flooding in about fires having started by lightning strikes. The first area to report serious fires
came from an area about 20km from Dwellingup (110km from Perth) where 10 fires had began raging out of
The following day another series of thunderstorms swept the area starting
a further nine fires in the State Forests of Dwellingup. At the same time fires began burning in the hills
area near Perth at Glen Forrest, Kalamunda, Greenmount and Mundaring. Fires were also reported in areas around
Denmark. In four days the fire had claimed over 40,000ha.
For four weeks firefighters were pushed to their limits trying to contain the fires. Then, on the
24th of February, the day everybody was dreading, arrived. Temperatures sored to 41C and due to a tropical storm in
the states north, winds of up to 60km/h whipped up in the south-west. A combination of hot temperature and winds
was enough to ignite and reignite fires in the forests. Many people from timber towns were evacuated to
Pinjarra Under SiegeAbout 24kms down the road the town of Pinjarra was under siege after a massive fire began to approach the town. About 1000 people
were in the path of the fire. Dwellingup control centre received a chilling message, that the local garage
had just exploded and houses on both sides of the Post Office were in flames, before communications were cut
off. The smoke from the fire had caused a communication blackout of all two-way radio's. It was an agonising
wait for the control centre. The fire in Pinjarra would claim 123 homes, 2 service stations and 3 shops but
Small Communities Wiped Off the MapDwellingup and nearby mill towns were also in the fires
path. Dwellingup sustained considerable damage and had to be virtually rebuilt.
Not so lucky were the small mill communities of Holyoake, Nanga Brook, Marrinup and Banksiadale
which were literally wiped off the map. In fact, following the fires, a decision was made not to rebuild these
In early March the fires were to hit Augusta-Margaret River Shire . Causing major fire damage and loss of several historical buildings.
The area which was once was the site of the original M.C. Davies Old Karridale townsite was completely destroyed, leaving only a chimney stack. However
this fire was believed to have been started by an attempted back-burning strategy and not that of lightning
AftermathIn the end, the fire would burn out about 1.8 million ha of land and 160 buildings
and cost $35 million in lost homes, businesses and livestock. As a result of the fires the State Government ordered
a Royal Commission into the fire management issue. The Commissions in its findings recommended that there be
amendments to the Bush Fires Act. The local government would take more fire management responsibilities. Provisions
were made for more resources for the Bush Fire Boards and an upgrade of forest management to lessen the threat from
The response from the Forests Department was firstly to invest in better equipment, radio
communications and weather forecasting. Secondly they commenced a fire behaviour research program to understand
more about fire behaviour and to find improved techniques for prescribed burning. Prescribed burning is where low
intensity fires are used to reduce the build up of undergrowth, such as leaves and twigs, on the forest floors.
Fires of 2007
Forty six years later Dwellingup was again under threat of fire but this time not by lightning strikes but by
what authorities believe is an arsonist. On Saturday the 4th of February, 2007, following temperatures of over 40
degrees, a bushfire was deliberately lit late in the afternoon. The fire swept through farmland at such a fast
speed, firefighters struggled to warn residents of the impending danger. By 6pm residents of Dwellingup were being
evacuated to North Dandelup Hall where volunteers provided food and shelter for the night. The fire cut power,
telephone and the water supply to the town and as a result water tankers had to be sent. The fire burnt to within
3km of the town's centre. By 10pm six houses and many farm sheds had been engulfed by the raging inferno. A huge
blanket of smoke rose as high as 1500m into the sky, completely smothering the town centre. More than 250 fire
fighters and 14 earthmoving machines worked to contain the blaze and save the historical timber town. It was
reported that the searing temperatures caused many of the fire trucks to break down and their tyres to burst during
the attempts to fight the fire. The bush fire has been estimated to have ravaged 12,000ha of forest and farmland
and destroyed 16 homes. In some cases not even the kitchen sinks had survived the intense heat created by the
fires. The Hotham Valley train which runs from Pinjarra to Dwellingup has been closed indefinitely, following the
loss of two railway bridges. The estimated cost for rebuilding the two bridges is over $150,000. The Hotham Valley
steam train was one of the main tourist attractions for the area and is likely to be closed for at least a year.
The arson squad has been assigned to investigate the cause of the fires.
UPDATE: The Hotham Valley Tourist Railway's Pinjarra Steam Ranger train service, which
was suspended following the Dwellingup fire of January 2007, once more travels between Pinjarra and Dwellingup from
May to October on Wednesdays and Sundays, following the completion of repairs to several burnt out rail bridges and
sections of track damaged by the bushfire.
Please contact the Hotham Valley Tourist
Railway on 9221 4444 for more information.