Victoria had been through a prolonged drought so the fires, combined with extreme heat and strong winds, caused widespread destruction as it swept across nearly two million hectares. Seventy-one people perished along with sheep, cattle, horses and other animals.
More detail can be found at the Victorian DEPI webpage.
It seems like only a short time ago that even more lives (173) were lost in the tragedy of the Victorian 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
In 1939 my Mum's cousin, Allan Percy Fleming, was a journalist for the Brisbane Courier Mail. He wrote about Powelltown in Victoria where the fire had thankfully only claimed 2 lives this time compared to 31 lives lost in the Black Sunday fires of 1926.
He wrote about the bravery 15-year-old Florrie Hodges in saving her 3 younger sisters.
Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), Wednesday 11 January 1939, page 6
Fire Over Victoria
Heroism In The Rugged Bush
Bv ALLAN FLEMING
IN the rugged mountains of north eastern Victoria the bush fire is again spreading devastation. The people of the sawmilling districts of
Erica, Noojee, and Powelltown have one small mercy to be thankful for— the fires have claimed only two lives. In 1926, in the same district, 31 men, women, and children were burnt to death on Victoria's Black Sunday — the worst bush fire disaster in the history of Australia It was on Black Sunday that Florrie Hodges, a girl of 15, became a national heroine. The scene of her heroism was near Monett's Mill, where nearly every family has already lost its life's savings this year. When the fire was at its height, raging through the timber to the mill, she set out with her three sisters and six other persons to go to Powelltown, five miles away. Her sisters, were aged seven years, four years, and 17 months respectively. She had the eldest sister on her back, and the other two under her arms. The fire trapped them. The eldest sister was taken by another member of the party, and Florrie flung her body over the other two while the fierce flames swept over them. They remained there until help arrived. Florrie, who was the most severely burned, spent many weeks in hospital recovering, and her bravery won her the bronze medal of the Royal Humane Society of Australasia. EVERY year the people of the district have had to do battle with bushfires, and occasionally tragedy is added to the destruction. After the disaster of 1926 many dugouts were built and equipped near the mills, but in the vast, forest areas it is impossible to create absolute safety. When the undergrowth becomes tall and dry a spark will start a blaze that leaps over fire-breaks in front of a strong wind and lights up miles ahead. A man riding hard on a horse could not escape it unless the wind changed.
Although the district is only a few hours' run from Melbourne it is as rugged as any part of Australia. Tall trees cover the steep mountainsides, timber tracks of wood or steel wind around narrow cuttings above wattle and scrub shrouded gullies. Wooden trestle bridges span the waters of rocky creeks. There is usually a small settlement of bark or wooden huts around, the outlying sawmills, but the forest encroaches upon them so closely that a raging fire will take them in its path. Wallabies, kangaroos, rabbits, and foxes join in the wild race to escape the flames. Even settlements like Powelltown are so deeply set among the frowning hills and thick forests that any big fire roaring before a wind is a constant menace. HEALESVILLE and Toolangi, which are being threatened also in the outbreak which began on Sunday, are not far away. They are in the same type of country. Their tourist attractions, however, have led to the building of many good roads winding round the sides of the mountains. . In the Powelltown district most of the tour- ists are hikers who follow rough paths or the tracks of the timber trains. Latest reports indicate that many homes have been burnt, and hundreds are threatened . further north in the Mansfield-Tatong- Whitlands districts — the Kelly country. It was in a gully not far from Tatong that Ned Kelly shot dead a mounted constable who had come to surprise and capture him. Some settlers there still remember seeing the bushranger in their childhood. The country has been opened up by a fine scenic road that gives a glorious view of Mount Buffalo and the Australian Alps as it winds round gorges and along a rough tableland. Most of the settlers on the tableland have been trying to grow potatoes on virgin country that they have sweated to clear. The fire will be a severe setback to them.