On February 16 1983, between 9.10pm and 9.20pm, the Victorian town of Cockatoo was removed from the earth. A fire had been burning lazily on the outskirts of town when 100km/h winds sent it eastward to wash over the community like a wave.
Firefighters were locked out by the wall of fire which periodically exploded when engulfing eucalypts. More than 100 children were led to the local kindergarten and ordered underneath wet towels. A skeleton crew clamoured to the roof with buckets and hoses. An hour later, the kindergarten was one of eight buildings left standing. Across the road, the town hall twirled in a whirlwind of soot.