It was a night that won't ever be forgotten by locals and firefighters alike. A chaotic night where wind gusts of up to 146km/h fanned the flames of 22 fires across the south-west, devouring houses, fences and livestock.
Lives and landscape were forever changed that night, and on the first anniversary of the St Patrick's Day fires many are doing their best to move on.
Others are still haunted by what happened that night - one farmer says he sometimes hears the cries of his lost livestock when he walks across the paddocks where they are buried.
District 6 operations manager Mark Gunning, who was incident controller on the night of the fire, said it was a scary night.
"You could hear voices that had a real fear in them on the radio," he said. They were the familiar voices of firefighters facing scary situations. "That always rocks you a bit. That just went on all night," Mr Gunning said.
You could hear voices that had a real fear in them on the radioMark Gunning, CFA
At one stage he turned off the two-way radio in the car, just so he could focus. "There were a lot of distractions. It was chaotic. Crazy chaotic," he said.
Corangamite group officer Mark Billing, who was divisional commander that night described it as "organised chaos".
"I had one person watching my pager and another person watching my phone plus all the radios going," he said.
"The thing that struck me for that night was the fire behaviour, I'd never seen anything like it before at night."
There were hundreds of calls to 000 that night which meant there were dozens of icons on the emergency app. "We had 22 fires at one point, and four of them got big," Mr Gunning said.
See some of the devastating footage here, as captured by The Standard journalists.
With strong winds bringing down large branches and powerlines onto roads and disrupting telecommunications, Mr Billings said the CFA's communication and management systems were put under a lot of stress that night.
After working all day, Mr Gunning "hit the road" when his replacement arrived at midnight. "We had no aircraft and no intelligence, so I just drove around back roads mapping the fire manually as it got from point A to point B and feeding that back in so our warnings were as accurate as possible," he said.
One of the biggest fears that night was a forecast 70km/h wind change for 6am.
"We really thought the Gazette fire would probably run into Hawkesdale, we thought the Garvoc fire would come across and join up with the Terang fire just as the Ballengeich and Cudgee fires joined in 1983," Mr Gunning said.
The thing that struck me for that night was the fire behavior, I'd never seen anything like it before at nightMark Billing, CFA
"I gotta tell you, at 3am in the morning I was 100 per cent convinced that would happen."
Mr Billing said that because the fire had burnt south of Cobden, there were concerns it could push the fire into Cobden and, to some extent, Camperdown and Terang.
With all local brigades deployed, and support on the way from Geelong and Ballarat, there were between 300 and 400 volunteers fighting the fire that night.
See how just some of the many fire victims were impacted:
The Metropolitain Fire Brigade and a pumper strike team from Geelong were deployed to Cobden, strategically placed to protect the town's major assets such as Fonterra, the feedmills and health centre.
"When you think of what that fire was doing through the night, to not have any major injuries or to lose anybody was really amazing," Mr Billing said.
"My fear all through that night, and even to the lunch time on the Sunday, was we'd find someone that wasn't lucky."
Mr Gunning said there were close calls - some realising the next day just how close when they noticed the taillights of their vehicles had melted, many other sheltered in dams while their properties burnt around them.
Mr Gunning said that the only formal evacuation that night was the southern area of the Gazette fire because the roads to Warrnambool were clear of fallen trees.
"Cobden you couldn't get into or out of for trees on nearly all roads. Same down around Timboon. Every road had trees across it. To put people on the road evacuating, there was a real risk of loss of life," he said.
"They were conscious decisions believe it or not. When we'd normally evacuate, we made conscious decisions not to because the odds were that we'd endanger more people.
"Personally, it's a horrible position to be in. We know people are in danger and they're scared and they want direction from emergency management agencies but to put them in greater danger...There were people afterwards that criticised us because we didn't evacuate them."
When you think of what that fire was doing through the night, to not have any major injuries or to lose anybody was really amazing.Mark Billing, CFA
And then something unexpected happened. Before the wind change arrived, the rain came.
"It wasn't forecast and it wasn't expected but it quietened the fire until firefighters could get the upper hand," Mr Gunning said. "It was a godsend at the time."
Without the rain, the fires would have been four or five times bigger, he said.
Mr Gunning said the SES and shire workers had gone above and beyond the call of duty to clear the roads that night.
"They knew locals had no other option but the roads they were working on, so they made sure they were clear. That's bravery," he said.
Mr Billing said the wind alone had caused significant damage and created huge access issues with trees blocking roads. "Once the fires went through we had powerlines down and we weren't sure if they were still live," he said.
"It's not very often we get winds close to 150km/h at night, and then you throw a fire in as well," he said.
"Unofficially, the Mount Porndon fire lookout registered a 146km/h gust about an hour into the fire. So we already had the fire before the worst of the wind came through.
"I was actually still in the field and I was trying to get out of my vehicle and the wind was blowing that hard I physically couldn't push the door to get out.
"We had a number of doors on fire trucks basically ripped off their hinges as people tried to open the doors.
"Doors swung right round the wrong way on some trucks."
We had a number of doors on fire trucks basically ripped off their hinges as people tried to open the doors.Mark Billing, CFA
During the night, the Terang fire spotted five kilometres ahead of the front at Scotts Creek.
"It was not insubstantial. It only burnt farming land but it created another glow in the sky," Mr Gunning said.
"It scared the hell out of locals and there were fire trucks in between those two fires at some stage, so there were crews at risk from that."
Read messages of support and thanks from the community in the days after the fires here:
Mr Billing said that in the back of their mind there were concerns the fire might reach the gas plants. "We had no idea where it was going to stop, let's be honest," he said.
Mr Gunning said the Cobrico peat fire took the better part of a month to extinguish with as many as 170 people on any one day working on that fire.
Mr Gunning said the leadership from then Corangamite Shire mayor Jo Beard who arranged for a Mr Billing to talk to the 400 or so people who had gathered at Cobden hall at 3am was critical to people's confidence.
For Mr Billing, he said having to reassure the community at that meeting was probably one of the toughest things he's ever had to do. But he said the community has just been brilliant.
When the emergency app starting pinging on her phone, Cr Beard jumped out of bed and into action.
She was in bed recovering from the first treatment for her newly-diagnosed MS - a rare form called primary progressive. It's a chemo-like treatment which depletes the immune system.
"I think my doctors still can't believe I did what I did. As far as I was concerned that was the last thing on my mind," she said.
"I was getting around for weeks on end with no immune system. I did it because that's what I felt I needed to do. It was adrenaline. It was my community. These were people I knew and cared about.
"A lot of people were unaware of what was going and that's fine because it wasn't about me.
"I was just someone in a position that was able to hopefully help people through a really tragic and challenging time."
Having grown up in Cobden, Cr Beard said the weather that night was something she'd never experienced before.
"Not being able to walk to the car without feeling like you were going to be blown over. That to me raised alarms that this just doesn't feel right," she said.
It was just so surreal and we could see the glow from the back of the fire station and from the reports that were coming in. It was crazy.Former Corangamite mayor Jo Beard
Cr Beard went to the Cobden fire station not realising she would be there most of the night, except when she was arranging for a relief centre at the town's hall to be set up.
"It was just so surreal and we could see the glow from the back of the fire station and from the reports that were coming in. It was crazy," she said.
When strike teams started coming in from across the state, that's when she knew how serious it was, she said.
Not able to get people in to help that night because the roads were blocked, Cr Beard sent her husband Daniel to the relief centre with IT equipment so other community leaders who'd stepped up could start registering people as they arrived, many of which had just seen their properties reduced to ashes.
Cr Beard said the number of properties lost that night were talked about, but what doesn't get the attention is just "how many houses that these brave men and women saved on that night".
She said there were those who were out fighting the fire all the while their own properties were under threat.
A year on and there are few visible reminders of the fires left, but for the locals the landscape has been changed forever. "A lot of these trees were symbolic to people. It was their landmark. That's a constant reminder for people who live in these areas," she said.
Having just returned from the recent Gippsland fires, Mr Gunning is only too aware that the job of CFA goes beyond fighting fires.
"We're here to actually get the community normal and I reckon that gets lost sometimes in the narrative," he said.
He said there would be many people directly and indirectly affected by the fires that would be doing it tough on the first anniversary.
- If you or someone you know needs help or support, call Lifeline's 24/7 national telephone helpline service on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. Good resources are also available at RUOK: https://www.ruok.org.au