The Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, beginning on February 7 2009, will remain on record as one of the most horrific and destructive natural disasters Australians have witnessed.
According to the Country Fire Authority, 592 grass and bushfires and 263 structure fires were reported on Black Saturday. The major fires in terms of lives lost or significant damage were at Kilmore East, Murrindindi, Churchill, Delburn, Bunyip, Narre Warren, Beechworth-Mudgegonga, Bendigo, Redesdale, Coleraine, Horsham, and Pomborneit–Weerite.
In all, the fires destroyed or severely damaged 3400 Victorian homes and burnt out about 430,000 hectares of land. Most tragically, 173 people lost their lives. Many more were injured, and many psychologically scarred by the experience.
The Salvation Army launched its Victorian Bushfire Appeal immediately following Black Saturday and Australians responded immediately with generous donations to the appeal. Almost $23 million was received nationally in general donations to the appeal. Additionally, further project-based donations were also received.
During the initial time of crisis, The Salvation Army were on site across the state providing more than 50,000 meals, offering counselling to people affected and to the response teams involved, coordinating material aid and importantly offering immediate financial assistance to people affected by the fire so that they could purchase personal items they needed urgently. In the first 72 hours of providing assistance, The Salvation Army had provided more than $1 million in immediate financial grants. By the end of the first week $2.5 million had been distributed.
After the initial response to the fires ended The Salvation Army remained active in fire affected communities, working with them through the difficult recovery process. The Salvation Army assisted bushfire affected communities with emotional, financial and material needs as well as providing community building events and activities and specialist support for young people.
In 2012, three years following Black Saturday, The Salvation Army is still active in some bushfire affected communities and while official services may have ceased, the relationships built and the support networks created remain strong.
For more information about The Salvation Army's involvement in the Victorian bushfire please read: Victorian Bushfire Response Report February 2011