Sunday, February 08, 2009

Australia's bushfires

Undoubtedly, news of Australian bushfires has spread around the world. Despite the phenomenon being largely confined to Victoria, it might give the mistaken impression that Sydney is in imminent danger of conflagration. Nevertheless, it now ranks as Australia's worst natural disaster.

Over about a week, a lengthly heatwave fired the southeastern states of Australia, delivering day after day of 40 degree plus heat to Melbourne (Victoria) and Adelaide (South Australia) in particular. The heatwave seems to have bypassed more northerly locations such as Sydney and Brisbane - and perversely, Queensland, far north of Sydney, has been experiencing major floods in this time.

The prolonged heat seared Victoria dry, and it was only a matter of time before it succumbed to flame. Sad to say, it was just as much arsonists as carelessness and lightning that set off the fires. In fact, there were reports of areas bursting into flame very soon after fires had first been put out - and that is not to decry the work of the (largely volunteer) firefighters, who are skilled and dedicated in protecting their own community.

ABC's national service Newsradio has this evening been given over entirely to Victorian local radio services, to reach and inform as much as possible the communities that are being affected or threatened. As it stands at the moment, nearly people have been accounted dead, and hundreds of homes have been destroyed.

Some explanation of the loss of life can be gleaned from advice I heard on the radio from someone on the ground. He suggested people either get out early or stay to protect their homes; running the gauntlet along the roads as the fire came was not a realistic option. Yet he seemed resigned to accepting there were people who would stay to save what they could, come what may.

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