The irony is not lost on me that while I was spending 4 days living a life-long dream at the Sapporo Snow Festival my home state was burning. I remember Ash Wednesday in 1983 vividly, the smoke in the air and the blood-peach colour of the sun, when it could be seen, is unforgettable – that anything could be worse is beyond my understanding. Nevertheless, when we went to bed last night the deathtoll was 65, approaching Ash Wednesday’s 72, and this morning it stands at 108 and growing. Marysville, a town which every Victorian who has ever been to the snowfields will know is all but gone (apparently the only building left is the bakery – even our fires have a laconic sense of humour.)
My Aunt lives in Beechworth and is safe at the moment, she has had her car packed for three days and is staying with her friend nearby whose husband volunteers helping keep the Fireys fed and watered, so they have a reliable source and will go when he calls and tells them to go. Though the northern fire is being referred to as the “Beechworth Fire” the winds have so far kept it skirting the town rather than hitting it. The sister of her friends lives in Yackandandah where a change of wind direction will have the beautiful, tiny town gone in minutes and everyone is on standby to put out spots until they see embers in the air and they will leave.
The International reaction has been mixed, once told of the devestation compassion has of course come forth but it seems that many people just don’t understand what a bush fire is. It’s a pretty innocuous phrase, I guess, a bush being a smaller thing than a tree and way less than a forest so perhaps people don’t think it’s a big deal. While is Sapporo, we heard nothing of it on CNN International and yet plenty about some bullshit cyclone about to hit the North West of the continent – has to be one of the least populous places in the world: seriously, CNN, get some geographical education for the production staff!
And just to make it hit home a little further here is the advice that is being given to those in danger areas. Note the warnings of what to do if you are caught in your car trying to get out – these aren’t just warnings to those who left late, it’s for those caught if the wind changes or the fire just picks up speed suddenly – it is a voracious, terrifying monster which can devour hectares of forest or all the buildings in a whole town in a matter of minutes.
From CFA updates page.
- Residents in this area may experience smoke and burning embers reaching their properties, and are advised to patrol their houses to find and put out any burning embers that may be landing.
- Protect yourself from radiant heat by wearing correct protective clothing consisting of long-sleeved shirts, long pants, sturdy boots and a broad brimmed hat. On no account should synthetic material be worn.
- As the fire front approaches, it will be unsafe to be either on foot or in a car as the heat radiating from the fire will be intense. Buildings will offer the best protection during the passage of a fire front. Close all doors and windows and stay inside the house while the fire passes. Remain alert, extinguish any small fires and if necessary, move outside to burnt ground once the fire has passed.
- If you are caught on the road, don’t get out and run.
- Pull to the side, preferably in an area clear of tall trees and long grass.
- Put your hazard lights on and close the windows and vents.
- Cover any exposed areas of skin with a woollen blanket and get down as low as possible.
- Only when the fire has passed do you get out and move to safety.
- Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Residents away from home should not try to return to the area as access is limited and the roads may not be safe.
- Continue to listen to ABC or local radio for updates on this fire.
The good thing about remembering Ash Wednesday is that I also remember the recovery. My mother worked on reconstructing a couple of gardens in the Macedon ranges and we were up and down the mountains many times over the following months as the town rebuilt around the pub to which the stragglers had retreated and was the only building that survived (including the church 10metres to the right) . I know that you can now wander through the Macedon ranges, for example, and the bush and the communities show little evidence of the destruction except for the odd memorial and the improved fire safety measures. Though they won’t be able to think beyond finding the next meal for their kids or shelter for the night for the next few weeks, those who survive these fires will one day be able to walk through the devastated areas and marvel at the regeneration of nature and their community.
If you feel it in your power to help at all, you can find some ideas on this page from the Australian Red Cross