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20 February 1980 Ash Wednesday bushfires

 20 February 1980   Ash Wednesday bushfires

It is a strange coincidence that two of the worst bushfires in South Australia occurred on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. On 20 February 1980 a fire, believed to have started from smouldering rubbish in the Heathfield dump, swept through the hills destroying 51 homes but fortunately with no loss of life.

The second Ash Wednesday fires, on 16 February 1983, were even worse. At lunchtime on that dreadful day, with the temperature around 40 degrees Celsius and with a strong, hot northerly wind blowing, fires in the hills, Clare Valley, and the South East raged out of control. During the afternoon more fires broke out in different locations through the hills and by mid-afternoon the South East freeway and all roads to the hills were closed.

In all 26 people died, 14 in the south-east and 12 in the metropolitan area, including four at Yarrabee Road, Greenhill. Many homes and buildings were destroyed including Eurilla, Mount Lofty House, St Michael's, the Church of England Seminary at Mount Lofty, the Eagle-on-the-Hill Hotel, old German houses at tiny Paechtown, and other landmarks. In all 118 houses through the hills were burnt down. At 9 p.m. light rain began to fall on the blackened devastation.

Advertiser,   21 February 1980; 17,18 February 1983.

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