Black Saturday bushfires raged across the state of Victoria, Australia, throughout the month of February, when this image was taken. The red squares mark active fires, burning near the Great Dividing Range and threatening the water supply of Victoria's capital and most populous city, Melbourne. (Melbourne sits near the top of Port Phillip Bay, the large bay on the left.)

NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Rebecca Lindsey.

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  • On February 7, 2009, the Australian state of Victoria experienced as many as 400 individual bushfires. These wildfires scorched more than 4,500 square kilometers (1,737 square miles) of land, destroyed 2,029 homes, and killed 173 people. Recovery cost more than a billion dollars. The so-called “Black Saturday Bushfires” are often called the worst natural disaster in Australia’s history.
    Bushfires are a common threat in Australia’s arid summer climate. Victoria had been enduring an unusual heat wave, with temperatures as high as 48 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) and almost no rain. In addition, winds were recorded at more than 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour). The government imposed a total fire ban across the state.
    Most of the bushfires were the result of arson, collapsed power lines, and natural events such as lightning strikes. The fires were not fully contained or extinguished until March 14.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    arid Adjective


    arson Noun

    crime of intentionally setting an illegal fire.

    climate Noun

    all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate
    extinguish Verb

    to put an end to or completely do away with.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    heat wave Noun

    period of unusually hot weather.

    lightning Noun

    sudden electrical discharge from clouds.

    Encyclopedic Entry: lightning
    natural disaster Noun

    an event occurring naturally that has large-scale effects on the environment and people, such as a volcano, earthquake, or hurricane.

    power line Noun

    cable or cord used to transfer electricity from a power plant to a population center. Also called a transmission line.

    wildfire Noun

    uncontrolled fire that happens in a rural or sparsely populated area.