Slow English

Podcasts about Australia for intermediate learners of English

Podcast 23 – Black Saturday February 7th, 2009


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Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack

Podcast Number 23 – Black Saturday February 7th, 2009


Australia is a great place to live, with great natural beauty and a wonderful climate.  But there are also times when the land and the climate can be cruel and dangerous.  One such time was February 7th, 2009.  On that day, the worst bushfire in Australia’s history raged through parts of Victoria, destroying homes, entire towns and taking the lives of 173 people.  That day became known as Black Saturday.

Bushfires are always a problem in Australia, as our summers are hot, dry and long.  We have lots of native bushland and bushfires can start easily, either from lightning strikes, the sparks from fallen or clashing power lines or, in some cases, deliberately lit by people.

In the week prior to Saturday, February the 7th, 2009, Melbourne had 3 consecutive days with a maximum temperature above 43 degrees Celsius.   It was a heat wave.  It was worse than anyone could remember.

But Saturday the 7th of February was even worse.  The maximum temperature on that day was 46.4 degrees Celsius.  This was the hottest day ever recorded for an Australian City.  The weather on this day could not have been worse for fire.  As well as the very high temperature, there were very high winds and extremely low humidity.  By mid-morning, a hot north-westerly wind was blowing hard, at speeds of more than 100 kilometres per hour.  Humidity was only 6%.  It was a recipe for disaster.  It was like a furnace.  A total fire ban had been declared for the entire state of Victoria.  That means that no one is allowed to start a fire outside, anywhere. The State of Victoria was like a bomb ready to go off.  Unfortunately, it did.

Around midday at Kilmore East, about 90 kilometres from Melbourne, the high winds caused power lines in bushland to fall.  This caused sparks and started a bushfire which would become part of the most fearsome and deadly fires ever recorded in Australia.  At around 3.00pm, another fire started in bushland at Murrindindi Mill about 100km from Melbourne.  It’s cause is unknown. These two fires in particular raged at their worst until around 7.00pm.  I can remember being at home and wondering if this heat wave would ever end.  I was lying on the bed with the air conditioning going full speed but it was not able to keep us cool.   I had no idea that, as I sweltered in the afternoon heat, a terrible firestorm was raging just 50 kilometres from where I lay.  Homes were being destroyed, bushland was being blackened and people were dying.

We thought we finally had relief in Melbourne when a cool change arrived at around 5pm.  This meant that the hot winds from the north west suddenly changed to much cooler winds coming from the ocean.   But these winds were still very strong. The temperature dropped 15 degrees in just 15 minutes. You might think that this would cool the fires.  Unfortunately these changed winds fanned the Kilmore East and the Mirrundindi Mill fires and turned their direction.  These winds blew these terrible fires directly onto small towns which had hoped they would be safe.  As a result, the towns of Kinglake and Marysville were engulfed by fire in the late afternoon and early evening.  In Kinglake, 38 people died and 1,200 buildings were destroyed.  In Marysville, 34 people died and nearly 400 buildings were destroyed.  These towns were devastated.  Other towns were also badly affected by the many fires which burned on that day and for days afterwards.  In all, 173 people died and 414 were injured.  More than 2,000 homes were destroyed despite the best efforts of over 4,000 brave firefighters.

Watch this news report.

These fires and many, many other fires burned fiercely in country Victoria for 3 more weeks and were finally brought under control with the arrival of cooler weather in early March.

To learn the facts about the fires, you should visit

The people of Australia responded immediately to help those affected by the fires.  Around $372 million was donated in a very short time to help those that were affected.  The government quickly set up the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority, to coordinate the rebuilding of those towns which had been destroyed.  The government also set up a major inquiry and investigation to find out what happened and to find out how we can avoid such tragedies in the future.  We have learnt some hard lessons.  Many of those who died had not prepared their homes and properties fully for a fire.  Those who live in these forest areas must be prepared and have a plan of action.   But perhaps the greatest lesson is that, when a bushfire gets too large and too ferocious as it did on February the 7th, the only way to be really safe is to leave, and leave early, well before the fire arrives.

I hope I have not been too negative in talking about bushfires in Australia.  We all love the summer, but bushfires will always be a threat in Australia during the summer months.  We have learned to respect the power of a bushfire and must always be prepared when the summer months come around.

If you have a question or a comment to make, please leave it by clicking the comments link at the top of this story.  You can leave your comment in English or in any language and I will translate it. Or, you can send me an email at I would love to hear from you.  Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my Slow English podcast.  Perhaps you could suggest a topic for a future podcast.  If you would like to take a short quiz to see if you have understood this podcast, you will also find it on my website. Goodbye until next time.




Podcast 23 Quiz - Did you understand the podcast?

You can take the test as many times as you like. Your individual scores are not recorded.



air conditioning = keeps the air cool inside a building on a hot day

avoid = to stop something from happening

beauty = when something is very nice to look at

blowing = when wind moves

bomb = something which explodes or blows up

bushfires = fires that go through the forest or bush

clashing = when two things hit one another

climate  = the weather

consecutive = one after another

coordinate = when you cause something to done

cruel = very, very bad

dangerous = when you can get hurt or die

deadly = when something is so dangerous that it can kill people

degrees Celsius = a way to measure temperature.  Water boils at 100 degrees Celcius

deliberately = when you mean to do something

destroying = when something is being removed or broken into pieces or burnt

devastated = when something is destroyed and no people can live there anymore

direction  = a line leading to one place

directly = when something goes straight to a place

donated = to give something to help somebody else

enquiry = when people ask questions to find out what has happened

extremely = when something is very low or very high

fanned = when the wind blows on a fire and makes it get hotter

fearsome = something to be feared

fiercely = when a fire burns very fast and very hot

firestorm = when a fire is so bad that it is like a storm

furnace = a place where you burn things.  A furnace is very, very hot

heat wave = when you have many days with high temperatures

humidity = the amount of water in the air

in particular = when talking about one thing or group of things

injured = when some part of your body gets hurt

investigation = when people ask questions to find out why something happened

lightning strikes = when lightning reaches down to the ground

maximum temperature = the highest temperature

native = things that are grown naturally in Australia

negative = when you talk about bad things

prior = before

power lines = carry electricity from one place to another

properties = buildings, usually more than just a house

raged = burned fast and with great heat

recipe = the things that go together to make something

Reconstruction and Recovery Authority = the name of an organisation

recorded = when something is written down

respect = when you understand what something can do, you take notice of it

responded = to give something when you are asked

sparks = when you hit rock onto metal, you get sparks.  They can cause a fire

sweltered = when you feel very, very hot

threat = when something could be dangerous for you in the future

total fire ban declared = when you are told that you cannot start any fires outside

tragedies = when terrible things happen they are called tragedies

Victoria = a State of Australia

wondering = thinking in your mind about the future and what might happen


  1. Hi Rob,
    I was inspired from the podcast: Human beings are insignificant in front of nature. We should be respectful of nature instead of disrespectful of it. So we must always ask ourselves what we have offended it? At a time in our country, we were disrespect the natural rules and advocated ‘ man will conquer nature’, and got the punishment of nature.
    Thanks for the hard work.

    • Hi Dep,
      Thanks for your comment. You have made an interesting point, about humanity thinking we can control nature. We think we can, but in reality nature is much more powerful than anything we can do. I agree with you. The bushfires of 2009 here in Victoria are a good example.
      Have a great day.

  2. Hello mr Mccormack,
    My name is Pat, I am from Auckland(New Zealand), I must tell that it was a devastating happening to our lives here in NZ as well. I also run a blog dedicated to EFL studants and having to write about it wasn’t something easy at all, I still feel it quite recent in my mind and I want to tell you that I am extremely sorry for you all. Other thing I must say is what a fabulous blog slowenglish is absolutely fantastic!
    In fact, you’ve done a relevant work here, yes, well done!
    I wish you a great week

    • Hi Pat,
      Many thanks for your comment and your kind words about my Slow English website. Yes, New Zealand has had terrible natural disasters too and it is not easy to write about them. I visited your website at and it is a very useful resource for those learning English – well done.

      Have a great day.

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