One of Marysville's churches. Presumed lost. (James)
It has not been a good day in Australia.
One of the things we've been learning about since returning to Australia is how to live with fire risk. We live in urban Melbourne, so face the same fire risks most of civilisation does. Not a great problem, perhaps encouraging complacency.
It's not the same up country.
If you live in country Victoria, in almost all areas, you've got to be realistic about the fact that there will be a bushfire - not if, but when, and how bad. Unlike in Canada and the USA, Australian bushfire principles are based on stay and defend, or pack and go. If you stay and defend, you are betting you can protect your home by fighting for it - you can't rely on external power, and you've only got the water you've kept in your catchments. You'll be defending your home with your own strength and betting your life.
Don't change your mind. If you are going to stay, stay. Many deaths occur when people decide they can't do it and try and drive out.
This weekend at least 84 Victorians lost that bet and died. There will be more. Others hoped that their houses might survive without them to defend. (Your chances of saving your house are good if you are trained, prepared and do the job. Most houses burn down from ember attack either before or after the fire front has gone through.) More than 700 houses have gone. Marysville, a pretty mountain town in the bush, where we've stayed for a weekend away, has gone.
The week before last we had three days in Melbourne over 43 degrees C; four over 40. But that wasn't bad because there were no high winds. Yesterday was high winds and 47 degrees C. That's a killing combination.
We've looked at houses with a view to moving to the countryside. In due course, I'm sure we probably still will - we can choose a good building on a good site, with a viable defensive plan, and we won't have a poor legacy site. When you've looked at a landscape with a view to fire risk, you don't regard shady trees as good news. You place your bets and you make a plan. You've got a good chance. But some people didn't get a fair go this weekend.
We hear a lot about 'heroes' in the military and so forth. Real heroes are those ordinary people that do extraordinary things. This weekend the CFA (Country Fire Authority) a volunteer body; are the heroes. Like real heroes many of them have sacrificed their own for their community - saving a neighbour's house while losing their own. These local communities have done their best in the face of untamed nature. Sure there's professional fire fighters, and we can't do without them. But there's never enough of them. Since the fires of 1939 and 1983 people have learned a lot. We know how to fight fires and defend property, but nature has still got the whip hand.
Meanwhile in Queensland, flooding is doing as much damage as the fires here. If there was a way to move the water 500 miles.
Here, yesterday's sky was a bit brown. The temperature today was a cool 20 degrees, and we even had a bit of drizzle (still less than 1mm in three months). There were a fair number of helicopters going over - but otherwise there were few clues that many areas of Victoria (a state the size of England) were facing devastation only equalled by war. The rest of Victoria is on high alert. Which can't be any nicer than actually facing the real fire.
There are other places I'd be happy to live, and have. But Victoria is my place - here and now. People think their home is worth fighting for.
Next time you find yourself grumbling about the weather - be grateful it's unlikely to kill you and destroy your town.
Thank you for listening.