The Yarra Valley and the Victorian bushfire tragedy

Damage to vineyards from bush fires in Yarra Valley

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The Yarra Valley, Victoria

The Yarra Valley, Victoria

Late in the afternoon of the 7th February - the exact date 62 people lost their lives in the Tasmanian bushfires 42 years ago - Melbourne reached its highest ever recorded maximum temperature of 46C, and embers borne by strong winds from fires near Kinglake hit the Yarra Valley, tinderbox dry due to drought.

In the Yarra Valley, fires were reported from Yarra Glen though to Healesville and beyond, and property at several iconic wineries and vineyards caught fire, including Punt Road, Sticks, Train Trak, Punch, St Huberts and Domaine Chandon. Domaine Chandon is reported to have lost about 1 ha of vines but there is no damage to the public buildings; Train Trak reports only minimal losses and Punt Road the loss of winery outbuildings.

Yering Station had one vineyard of about 8 ha burnt but the remaining 90% of their plantings were spared. The Melba Highway acted as a firebreak and also saved the historic homestead and new buildings. Tom Carson, who is now winemaker at Yabby Lake on the Mornington Peninsula, has lost his personal vineyard, Serrat.

The area of Coldstream was cut off and the fate of much of the Valley is only slowly emerging as property owners are allowed back in, although Coldstream Hills, Tarrawarra, Acacia Ridge, Balgownie, De Bortoli, Oakridge Estate, Wedgetail Estate and Giant Steps are untouched.

The newly-opened Mandala Estate has also been fortunate - it has now been confirmed that the cellar door and all buildings were spared. Charles Smedley, family and staff had only minutes to escape. On return from sheltering at Yea he found that the buildings have survived, despite previously believing that his home and recently opened cellar door were gone. They have lost vineyards and other buildings. However the team are already back at work and hope that they will be able to reopen in a few weeks.

St Huberts is reported to have lost a lot of its old vines. Up to 40 ha of vineyards are reported to be lost by Fosters, owners of St Huberts and Coldstream Hills, spread over two sites. Fosters are still assessing the damage and have also reportedly offered a donation of $750,000 in cash and in-kind support to the appeal. In total it is reported by the Yarra Valley Winegrowers Association that 29 vineyards have been damaged or destroyed, representing about 5% of the total area of grapes.

The CFA have confirmed that the Roundstone winery and bistro at Yarra Glen had been gutted, and all 8 ha of grapes have been lost. Owner John Derwin and family escaped with their lives, some machinery and some sheep. Yarra Yarra and Calders, two other small wineries, have also been destroyed (YVWGA).

The big toll has of course been the loss of human lives, and injuries. There are currently confirmed reports of over 180 deaths across Victoria, including four in the Yarra Valley and one in Bendigo, where fires reached within one km of the CBD and numerous houses have been destroyed. However police say that the final toll may exceed 200. Up to 80 people remain missing.

In the Valley, Yarra Glen, Dixons Creek, Steels Creek and Christmas Hills (just north and NW of Yarra Glen) are amongst the worst hit areas. The main fire appears to have hit the creek area and travelled upstream. Over Victoria, hundreds of houses, buildings and livestock have been destroyed in other areas including the worst-hit towns of Kinglake - where 33 people are already confirmed to have died, plus another 9 in Kinglake West - Marysville and Wandong, where residents were faced with fast-moving walls of flame up to 40 m tall. Some vineyards have lost workers, others family and friends.

Several towns including Kinglake - the most badly affected region, NW of the Yarra Valley, where reportedly 700 houses have been destroyed - have been razed to the ground. Marysville, a former tourist town, has one building left standing. It is reported that over 7000 people are currently homeless.

Healesville Sanctuary was evacuated in time and 200 of the most endangered animals were moved to Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Open Range Zoo. Another 800 remained on site and have survived. Healesville Zoo is closed to the public and a reduced number of staff are working overtime to assist treating injured animals incluing koalas, possums, echinas and lyrebirds, many with burnt feet or lung damage. [You can donate money to their care via the link below].

While there is still the threat of fire in and around the Yarra Ranges (14th), there is no imminent danger for Healesville Sanctuary. However all Healesville remains on high alert. Staff have been monitoring smoke and burning embers overnight.

The toll on native animals will never be known, but if the 1967 Tasmanian bushfires are any indication, populations may take many decades to recover. Starvation, injury and lack of drinking water will be the imminent threat for remaining animals, both native and for farm livestock. The fires around Healesville are not yet under control (13th Feb).

Most human lives lost have been within 100 km of Melbourne; the scale of the tragedy continuing to unfold is unprecedented in recent Australian history and includes many children and families. The policy of 'stay with your house' will no doubt now come under serious question in the face of such immense threat, although nothing prepared authorities for the speed at which the fires travelled, or their intensity, against which even houses offered no protection.

Fires near Myrtleford, Beechworth and over twenty other regional towns, are now reportedly under control (13th Feb) as are smaller fires which broke out in NSW. The wine region of Heathcote has also been affected but damage there is less extensive. Fire reached close to Barfold Estate.

Rupert's Ridge, previously reported as being destroyed, has survived the fires.

Family friend Cathy Gowdie says the house at Rupert's Ridge burned to the ground, but the shed which is to be the cellar door is still standing. "The vineyard is intact. This year's crop is lost for obvious reasons (extreme heat, smoke effect). But the vines themselves are OK, though a bit scorched in a few places, and should fruit again next vintage, thanks to the efforts of family friends and the dozens of Redesdale residents, including winemakers, who turned out this week to snip off the damaged fruit and therefore help the vines regain vigour for next year," she says.

The Macedon Ranges - badly burnt in past decades - escaped.

On the Mornington Peninsula a small fire was quickly contained with no significant damage, but the wine regions of Gippsland and Upper Goulburn remain on high alert.

In the NE of the state around Beechworth fires are reportedly now under control (as of 13th Feb), however all travellers are urged to avoid fire-accected areas, including Healesville which remains under ember attack (14th).

Police have now located the source of the fire that killed over 100 in Marysville, and confirm that it was deliberately lit. A suspect has also been apprehended in relation to the Churchill fire in Gippland which killed 21 people. Non-residents should not enter any of the burnt areas, whether 'for a look' or for other reasons. The areas are being treated as murder crime scenes. People found tampering with victims' property or belongings will also be apprehended.

People with accommodation, restaurant, event or other bookings in fire-affected and nearby areas should check direct with the operators before proceeding. Some venues are closed or are being used to accommodate firefighters and families who have lost their homes, and some roads are still closed. However most are now reopening and need your support. However please phone first and be patient and understanding as some are operating on very limited staff, due to deaths, the need to help others and the ongoing fire threat.

The Yarra Valley Grape Grazing Festival scheduled to be held on the 14th and 15th February has been cancelled (for further details see article below). An item of good news is that because of the winds, smoke was quickly blown away and there would appear to be a low probability of smoke taint in the wines from those vineyards that survived. However this may change until the fires east of Healesville are extinguished.

The Victoria Farmers Market Association has confirmed that, fortunately, no market stallholders from the Melbourne Community Farmers Markets have lost their lives, though many have suffered major damage on their properties and/or have lost their livelihood. Many farmers had already lost significant crops after two weeks of scorching 40C+ weather and have now been hit by these fires.

The Association advises that Kyneton Olive Oil and Barfold Olives have suffered major losses, but there are no details as yet.

Tourism Victoria has established a Statewide Bushfire Tourism Response and Recovery Committee, to work with industry, businesses and stakeholders across Victoria to ensure that colleagues in the impacted regions gain the vital support they need in this difficult time.

Currently, the committee is working with the regions affected to itemise:

  • losses of industry colleagues
  • loss of tourism businesses
  • tourism businesses that still exist but trading has been severely impacted
  • tour operators that have had to cancel tours
  • regional events that have been cancelled
  • affected areas of public land and assets

With bushfires impacting the Yarra Valley, Gippsland and Victoria's High Country Regional Tourism Response and Recovery Committees are currently being established in each of these regions.

Obviously there are also many operators of accommodations, restaurants and others in the food, farming, tourism and hospitality industries, as well as many others in businesses and the wider the Victorian community who have been affected by this terrible tragedy. We express our condolences to them all and urge our readers to support the relief operation generously. Below are some ways you can help.


An information hotline has been set up on: 1800 240 667

State Emergency Service phone: 132 500


The Red Cross State Government Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund:

Donations of CASH ONLY can be made to the Red Cross. All donations of $2 and above are tax deductible.

* Visit
* Freecall from anywhere in Australia to donate by credit card:  1800 811 700
(this number is busy so please try to donate online or by direct deposit)
* Any NAB, ANZ, Westpac or Commonwealth Bank branch
* Any Bunnings store
* By direct deposit to the Victorian Bushfire Relief Fund - BSB 082-001, Account number 860-046-797

Make a secure online donation to the Red Cross now (minimum donation A$5)

Myer Bushfire Appeal

* All proceeds to the Salvation Army. Donate at any Victorian Myer store


Salvation Army - 137 258,

Brotherhood of St Lawrence -



St Vincent de Paul

Is taking financial donations to help in the long-term recovery efforts of the communities devastated by the fires. Vinnies are also taking donations of material goods throughout Australia at its Vinnies Centres. Current material needs include personal needs such as shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, baby formula, baby bottles, baby dummies etc, new underwear and socks. Shoes (good quality, all sizes) are also required.

To find your local Vinnies Centres please contact 1800 621 349 or go to


BLOOD and plasma for burns victims and other injured persons:

At your nearest Red Cross, or call (in Victoria) 13 14 95, or go to



The Victorian Bushfire Accommodation Donation Hotline - 1800 006 468.

The number is toll-free and allows residents of Victoria in unaffected areas to donate accommodation - from B&Bs and other unbooked commercial accommodation, spare rooms, houses, holiday homes to caravans - for the temporary use of those left homeless by the fires. 

Offers of Housing and Accommodation

The Department of Human Services is coordinating donations of billeting/housing and accommodation. Please call the Department on 9096 0000 or 1300 650 172 within Victoria.



Foodbank is calling for assistance from the food industry, primarily for foods requiring limited preparation.
Food industry businesses who wish to help should contact Mike Cannon from VicRelief Foodbank via email: or phone: (03) 9362 8300, 0417 343 574.

Food can also be donated at the Salvation Army, for both affected residents and volunteers. Petfood is also required.


ANIMALS are also innocent victims in this tragedy. Wildlife Victoria now estimates over 10,000 larger native animals have been directly affected. Survivors now face starvation and other threats from habitat loss.

To donate to feed or treat injured wildlife, donate online to the Victorian Wildlife Emergency Fund. Their emergency phone is 1300 094 535  - please do NOT phone them unless you need assistance with an injured animal, or preferably phone your local vet. All donations of $2 and above are tax deductible. The system uses Paypal, is secure and you will be emailed an immediate receipt.


The Australian Wildlife Heath Centre at Healesville Sanctuary requires further donations (14th Feb) to help rehabilitate injured animals which can be saved. This is a process which will take months for some animals:

  1. Call (03) 9285 9406 during business hours.
  2. Donate online Specify '2009 Bushfire Appeal' in the comments box when you are making your online donation.
  3. Download a pledge form and fax to (03) 9285 9378, or mail to:
    Zoos Victoria Foundation 2009 Bushfire Appeal
    PO Box 74
    Parkville Vic 3052

All funds raised through this appeal will directly support the work of the Australian Wildlife Health Centre, and donations of A$2 and above are tax deductible.


The RSPCA needs more financial help with caring and feeding lost and injured pets and livestock (14th Feb). They have set up an emergency veterinary care station at Kinglake and RSPCA inspectors have now arrived from other states to assist in finding, treating and relocating affected animals. To make a donation online click here or phone 1300 300 662.

Donations of petfood and hay for horses and livestock are also required.

The RSPCA Ambulance service operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is for animal emergencies only. NOTE: It operates in the Eastern suburbs. For animal emergencies only please call (03) 9224 2222.


The University of Melbourne Veterinary Sciences Faculty has offered free vet care for domestic pets and horses injured in the bushfires. Phone Werribee (03) 9731 2000


Bushfire livestock fodder and agistment support.

Victorian farmers and livestock owners affected by the bushfires need urgent help with fodder and agistment. If you are able to offer either paddocks for agistment, fodder or other support please register via phone 1300 882 833 or email the Victorian Farmers Federation Practical ssistance is also required to help bury dead animals and for refencing.

You can also download the VFF's Bushfire Disaster Relief Fund Donation Form and return via fax (03) 9207 5500

Claim forms for rebates for road transport of stock from affected areas to agistment in NSW including transport of bee food can be found here (may apply to areas in NE Victoria).

Farmers in Tasmania wishing to donate fodder please contact the Tasmanian Farmers' and Graziers' Association phone (03) 6332 1800 or 1800 154 111 (Freecall). Fax (03) 6331 4344. First shipment has been sent; more to follow.


Equestrian Federation of Australia VIC Branch

EFA members affected by the bushfires who require assistance should contact EFA on 0400 917 037. Any member who can help with agistment of horses or feed please contact EFA on or phone (03) 9013 0707 Ext. 400



Continue to support Victorian producers by buying direct at your local farmers' markets (see the Victorian Farmers' Market Association website for a market near you). Those producers that are able to attend the farmers' markets in the upcoming months need your business more than ever.  If the produce looks a little scorched, if there is less variety or fewer stallholders than usual or if it is slightly more expensive in months to come, please be understanding. 

There will be fundraising raffles at the farmers' market, starting with Collingwood Children's Farm this Saturday (14th). There will be gaps where stallholders are unable to attend, either because they have lost their livelihood or they are simply still out fighting fires but come along, bring your friends, dig deep and help them get back on their feet.


The enormity of the impact of these fires is unprecented in peacetime Australia, but there are many, many ways we can all assist. This event will impact on every Australian for some time, but it is by pulling together and supporting each other, especially those who have lost everything, that we can rebuild.


  • Yarra Valley (Wine) (VIC)
  • Yarra Valley, Dandenongs and the Ranges (VIC)

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February 14th, 2009
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