Tuesday, February 8, 2011

February 7th, the anniversary of the Black Saturday Bushfires.

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria Australia.
It's hard to explain the weather on Black Saturday; the air was intense, searingly hot and dry and  sucked the moisture from your lungs painfully. It was hard to breathe normally - each in-breath was taken as shallowly as possible because the air was so dreadfully hot that it hurt to breathe it in. The moisture that you'd normally exhale on each out-breath simply didn't happen - it seemed to evaporate deep inside your nose or mouth as if the intense heat was dragging it, unwillingly from your body.

You don't sweat when the heat is so vicious, any hint of moisture evaporates even before it's had a chance to form on your skin. If, for some reason you need to move through an area without shade, it feels like your blood and all body fluids are going to fry immediately along with anything that could possibly contain even a drop of moisture.

Possums were dropping from their nests in trees, dead. Due to the prolonged drought, there had been strict regulations against watering gardens for years, but some suburban families used their hoses to spray possum nests to help them live - it was better to risk a fine than experience the distress of finding small furry bodies in the garden.

Eucalypts which usually cope relatively well in extreme conditions were stressed. The sparse leaves that remained were dropping, crisp and burnt at the edges from the extended period of unbroken heat.

Green grass, usually welcome and cooling in gardens, had long ago turned a crisp brown, or completely disappeared - not even the roots were left, completely exposing dry dusty earth. Nature seemed to be turning in on itself, dying - quietly, slowly, inevitably and we couldn't do anything to prevent it happening. It was painful to watch.

The weather conditions were dangerously ominous. A total fire ban covered the parched state of Victoria. Dams were dry, many rivers barely managed a trickle and some towns had completely run out of water and were trucking it in.  It was more a matter of "where and when will a fire begin", "how bad will it be", and "how long will it rage".  We knew we were waiting for the inevitable  Firefighters were on high alert, crews at the ready and there were constant warnings to be careful.

Temperatures consistently well over 40 degrees combined with wind gusts over 100kph, pyromaniacs, powerlines clashing together creating sparks dropping on to tinder dry eucalypt leaves, discarded cigarette butts on crisp roadside grasses and lightning strikes on tall trees, resulted in terrifying, massive firestorms that burnt out of control, across hundreds of thousands of acres for days.

Tragically 173 people were killed in the blazes, and over 2030 homes were destroyed. Many of those who lost homes are still in temporary accommodation. Bureaucratic red tape seems to be a real stumbling block, slowing the progress of rebuilding towns and communities. Grief and frustration are so evident in the faces of those still struggling with the after effects.

Along with this was the destruction of vast tracts of farm and bush land, massive numbers of livestock and countless native birds and animals. Creeks and rivers were chocked with ash affecting fish and other creatures reliant on fresh water - everything is touched in some way.

And now Western Australia is coping with out of control blazes on the outskirts of Perth (the capital city). 64 properties have been destroyed, some fires are believed to have been deliberately lit, others the result of sparks from an angle grinder.

And through all this hundreds of professional organisations joined forces with emergency services, volunteers, and everyday people to support, nurture and help others. Disasters are dreadful, and I'd never wish one on anyone, but through them, strong connections are formed and they can allow the best of humankind to shine.

Two years on, fishing near Marysville: http://jumpingaground.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/dear-weather-and-fishing-gods-2.html




Ebie said...

It is so sad for such a calamity. And to the brave fire fighters, my salute to them.

Take care.

sue said...

Ebie, I'll join you in the salute, and a cheer too.

Cruella Collett said...

Interestingly, I happen to know an Aussie (volunteer) firefighter. It certainly is a job for heroes, and I know I am impressed, as I'm pretty scared of fire, so nothing could make me go into a burning building or forest.

The scenes from the wildfire are awful. I remember it, vaguely, and then there's the flooding and the cyclone this year. It sounds like Australia has had more than its share of disasters lately. Let's hope it's done for a while.

sue said...

Cruella, the volunteers are wonderful. We can't sing their praises loud enough. It's been a rough start to the year, and like you we all hope it's over now.

I worked in a different location today, and went past some areas that had been flooded 2 weeks ago. Now I understand what everyone means when they refer to the smell...ugh. There were huge pumps that barely seemed to make any difference to the sheer volume of water, Like trying to drain a big lake with straws. Yet, building permits are still being given for these areas. Madness.

Diana Studer said...

We have a spotter helicopter and a team Working for Fire based in Porterville to protect our mountains in need.

Sue Travers said...

Diane, the spotter helicopters are great aren't they. We also have the ones which use fire retardant or scoop water up and drop it on spot fires. They call them Elvis which I expect is an acronym for something!

Sue Travers said...

How wrong I was Diane! Here's some information about the Elvis helicopters. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elvis_(helicopter)