Hello blog friends. You may be aware that the we in the Southern Hemisphere are experiencing a very hot, dry and dangerous Summer. There are literally hundreds of bushfires burning – and in most states in Australia. Many houses and farms have been lost, hundreds of livestock have been killed or subsequently destroyed, and sadly a few lives have been lost.
Unfortunately bushfires are a fact of life in our large, dry country and we experience them most years. However, some years are more devastating than others, and are forever charred into our memories.
On Febuary 16, 1983 we experienced what became known as Ash Wednesday, the deadliest of firestorms to that date. In Victoria, 47 people died, while in South Australia there were 28 deaths. This included 14 Country Fire Authority and 3 Country Fire Service volunteer fire fighters who died across both states that day. Many fatalities were as a result of firestorm conditions caused by a sudden and violent wind change in the evening which rapidly changed the direction and size of the fire front. The speed and ferocity of the flames, aided by abundant fuels and a landscape immersed in smoke, made fire suppression and containment impossible. In many cases, residents fended for themselves as fires broke communications, cut off escape routes and severed electricity and water supplies. Up to 8,000 people were evacuated in Victoria at the height of the crisis and a state of disaster was declared for the first time in South Australia’s history.
The Black Saturday bushfires were a series of bushfires that ignited or were burning across the Australian state of Victoria on and around Saturday, 7 February 2009. The fires occurred during extreme bushfire-weather conditions (strong winds and temperatures of 46 degrees Celsius and higher) and resulted in Australia’s highest ever loss of life from a bushfire; 173 people died and 414 were injured as a result of the fires. Beyond the 173 deaths, 120 of them caused by a single firestorm, the fires destroyed over 2,030 houses and more than 3,500 structures.
As many as 400 individual fires were recorded on 7 February and the week that followed. The events of 7 February 2009 and its aftermath, have become widely referred to as Black Saturday, the worst natural disaster in our short history.
February is our hottest and driest month of the year in the southern states so we may be faced with many more ‘dangerous fire days’ before this Summer is over. Thankfully the fires burning now have resulted in minimal loss of life compared with the Black Saturday fires, partly due to the lessons learned from that terrible day, partly from a raised awareness and a huge public campaign to be ‘fire-ready’ (culminating in all households in rural areas having a ‘fire-plan’) and just a little bit of luck.
Apart from the threat to human life during these crises, thousands of livestock die, and the loss of native wildlife is huge, not just as a result of the fires, but the subsequent loss of their habitat for many years to come.
When I was still at school in 1983, after the Ash Wednesday fires, I wrote a poem about the fear and anticipation bushfires invoke. I came across it again recently amongst my books and papers and it struck me how relevant it still is today, and I’d like to share it with you, and dedicate it to those who have lost so much and have experienced such personal trauma.
The sky darkens,
The wind howls,
There’s no moon
Only dust and smoke.
Everything is tinder dry.
Trees bend to the ground,
Light rain falls, drying before it reaches the land.
Only dust settles,
Smoke and ash choke.
Everything, everywhere is waiting.
Sparks leap from branch to branch,
Engulfing the bush, descending on the sleeping town.
The sky is aglow,
As houses blaze
Everything is burning hot.
The fire rages as people run,
In the horror of the darkest nightmare
Houses fall, cars explode.
It burns on, leaving the dead town to smoulder
Everywhere is blackened ash.
Please note these are publicly available images, not ones I have taken.