As you all will have seen on the news, Victoria is still under siege from Bush Fires. It is the biggest natural disaster to hit Australia, but many fires have been started deliberately. Over 100 people have been confirmed dead, but many more are missing, 750+ homes have been lost, and in some cases whole towns and villages have been burnt to the ground.
These are exceptional fires; the weather was 46º on Saturday, the wind was very strong, blowing embers all over the state, starting fires miles away from their origins. People in Narre Warren, which is a Melbourne suburb, were watching a DVD with the air con on, realised they could smell smoke, went outside and 5 minutes later their house was gone. While I blogged (or emailed) that fires are an essential part of re-growth for the bush, they are controlled strictly by back-burning. These fires are so quick, the firemen are actually advising for those who are stuck in a car with the flames approaching to drive at them, as the flames will pass so quickly it is your best chance of survival. We have seen pictures of burnt out cars, petrol tanks exploded, or even head on collisions because the smoke is so thick the drivers could not see more than a few metres in front of them. It must take a huge amount of courage, true bravery – not the bravery bandied about so frivolously in the media with footballers and golfers being ‘brave’ for playing with a ball – but knowing that your only hope of a slim chance of survival is to drive at a wall of flames, so hot your car melts around you.
On the drive home from the airport last night, we listened to ABC radio national, a heart wrenching appeal from a lady looking desperately for a couple, who were last heard of watching their house burn, surrounded on all sides by fire, with the firemen unable to reach them. The lady had registered their names with every association, authority and council, but was ringing up the radio in a last ditch effort to find them. Geoff and Nancy, names that will be forever engraved on my heart, a hope against hope for their survival, but the names and photographs of people that have died will remind everyone that this is a huge human tragedy.
If you live in a rural area, you have to have a fire plan, know it to the letter and know when to leave your house if you can’t save it. The problem was the strong winds pushing the flames quicker than the fireman had ever seen, giving people little or no time to leave. So, please bear in mind that we know what we would intend to do, so did these families, and they had practiced for bush fires. These are like no other fires in living memory, so we really have no idea what it must have been like for the people in the middle of it. Any disparaging remarks made about people being stupid enough to stay is liable to result in loss of friendship.
The mood in the city, on the tram, in the coffee shop and in the office is one of utter despondency. A client arrived this morning, very sad, she has dropped her sister off at the hospital to visit her son, (the client’s nephew) who is in the burns unit, his wife and two children died yesteday. Financial planning and working here today seems pointless. Everyone in the office is unutterably sad, Kylie’s friend lost his parents and his house, all his friends are rallying around trying to get clothes for him to wear, household objects and so on, but when you are standing in the clothes that you are wearing as you now sole items you own, what do you do? Stuff is just stuff, as long as Dan and I got out, everything else is immaterial. Until it happens to you. Until you are charcoal covered, eyes smarting and red rimmed, coughing from smoke or flames. The feeling of helplessness and shell-shock on the people’s faces they are interviewing on TV makes you feel at best uncomfortable, at worst a voyeur of despair. Insurance companies are already being urged to show tact and diplomacy regarding the fires, as well as the huge floods still washing away towns in tropical Queensland.
I have contacted the Red Cross to find out if I can help in the offices in any way, we are doing a clothes drive at work, Dan and I will make a donation to the relief fund and while we complain about the flat, it is still a roof over our head. We have our clothes, shoes, crockery, books, DVDs, our ‘stuff’ – count your blessings, I am today. I hope you do too.