I woke up this morning to the news that 108 people are now dead in the Victorian bushfires. The figure is staggering and frightening. These are not people living in splendid isolation in the bush, accepting the risk of fire. Several entire towns have been burnt out. 500 homes in Kinglake, most of Marysville. These are places where fire has gone through towns and houses like a ravening dragon, so fast and hot that one can’t even imagine the power. 700 homes have been destroyed. Places that are burning are places that I have walked and camped with my family as a teenager.
On Friday the authorities were asking people to refrain from unnecessary travel in rural Victoria and South Australia. Temperatures were set to rise into the 40s degrees celcius, humidity was low at 10% and winds would be brisk. Perfect fire weather. Residents in those states were being asked to decide and plan for what they would do in the case of emergency. Would they stay and fight the fires? If so, they needed equipment and plans and to prepare their houses as best they could. If they were going to leave, they needed to do so then and know exactly where they were going and what they were taking. At the time I thought “How can you tell entire states to be prepared? Will people just assume that it is not going to happen to them? Will people just go about lives as usual?”
It’s hard to even imagine the scale of these fires. One of the fires burning this morning is 93,000 hectares. Last night there were 26 active fires in Victoria and more than 200 fires listed on the Country Fire Service website. A schoolteacher on the news last night said that he had walked out of his house to check on the school. According to the radio, there was no immediate fire danger. By the time he returned home, ten minutes later his home was gone.
Across Australia, flags are officially at half mast. As the day goes by news of more deaths and more destruction trickle in. The current death toll is 131 and 700 houses burnt.
This was going to be a light-hearted piece to commemorate my 300th post. Instead I have spent the day checking the latest news with heavy heart. Think of the families who have lost everything and be grateful for what you have.
The Australian Red Cross and Salvation Army are accepting donations. They ask for money rather than goods so that funds can be spent through local businesses.