Sixty-nine mills were burned. Millions of acres of fine forest, of almost incalculable value, were destroyed or badly damaged. Townships were obliterated in a few minutes Mills, houses, bridges, tramways, machinery, were burned to the ground; men, cattle, horses, sheep, were devoured by the fires or asphyxiated by the scorching debilitated air. Generally, the numerous fires which during December, in many parts of Victoria, had been burning separately, as they do in any summer, either ” under control ” as it is falsely and dangerously called, or entirely untended, reached the climax of their intensity and joined forces in a devastating confluence of flame on Friday, the 13th of January. On that day it appeared that the whole State was alight.
At midday, in many places, it was dark as night. Men carrying hurricane lamps, worked to make safe their families and belongings Travellers on the highways were trapped by fires or blazing fallen trees, and perished. Throughout the land there was daytime darkness,. At one mill, desperate but futile efforts were made to clear of inflammable scrub the borders of the mill and mill settlement. All but one person, at that mill, were burned to death, many of them while trying to burrow to imagined safety in the sawdust heap.
At the Inquiry afterwards.
The truth was hard to find. Accordingly, your Commissioner sometimes sought it (as he was entitled to do) in places other than the witness box. Much of the evidence was coloured by self interest. Much of it was quite false. Little of it was wholly truthful. The timberworkers were afraid that if they gave evidence they would not be given future employment in the mills. It is difficult to imagine a sufficient reason for the absence of representation of these men before the Commission of Inquiry. Some of them, disregarding advice, gave evidence, which was clearly truthful. The Forest Officers were, in the main, youngish men of very good character. Mostly, they were afraid that if they were too outspoken, their future advancementin the Forests Commission’s employ would be endangered. Some of them had become too friendly with the millers; whose activities they were set to direct and check. It was regrettable that some of the sawmillers and some of the Forestry Officers were loud in praise of one another, when, to the knowledge of both each had neglected many obligations in the matter of fire prevention and suppression.