Friday, February 13, 2009

Woodsmoke

Today was the first day any noticeable effects of the bushfires were evident in Melbourne itself.

It was eerily quiet in our suburb, because there was no wind - a good thing for the firefighters.

The sky was blue, but there was an orange haze in the air, making everything slightly unreal, like a tobacco filter was being used. But this wasn't a special effect.

There was the subtle smell of next-door's barbique, or maybe a homely woodfire, normally a pleasant sensation. It wasn't next door, it was everywhere. The occasional helicopter going over, and the emergency sirens are particularly poignant at the moment.

The wind that had been directing the smoke and ash from the fires had dropped at last, after taking that smoke as far as New Zealand - over 2,000 km (1,200 miles) away.

Melbourne, south east of the fires by only 50 to 100 km (30 - 60 miles) has finally got some of the fallout.

We continue to hear stories from the fires, and are doing what we can. We can't give blood (to my not-so-secret relief - needles are not my favourite things) because we were living for six months in the UK between 1980 and 1996. I've never quite felt so 'tainted' before.

e-bay decided to shut down various fund-raisers because they weren't properly certified in the US.

We offered to house a dog - one good piece of news is that they think they've got enough offers to house all the animals they've got, so Toby won't have to budge up on the bed. Sadly some of the owners won't be coming to collect their pets. I've signed up as an RSPCA volunteer.

The Australian Defence Forces have made a range of housing available, including at RAAF Williams, Point Cook, the home of the RAAF Museum, where I volunteer. A good use of barracks normally empty.

Echidna at Healesville in happier times. The animal cull in the virgin bush will have been massive, random and uneven by species - but natural. JDK.

This morning Healesville, home of the famous animal sanctuary, where thousands saw their first platypus, roo or koala, was under direct, immediate threat. Thankfully, this afternoon conditions are more stable, and the threat's receded - for the moment. The sanctuary's closed to the public and the staff and volunteers are working overtime with injured wildlife. Some of those staff and people have lost homes, friends or family, but work on. Even the sanctuary may be no sanctuary if the winds change and the temperature climbs again. But the CFA have made great strides in protective measures.

Surviving Marysville residents have been bussed through the remains of their town. They aren't allowed to get off, as the forensic investigations continue. There's been no update on the death toll numbers for several days, but official estimates of the losses in Marysville are in the order of 100 - a fifth of the population.

A small town near where my family came from in Gippsland, Callignee is also 'just gone', and twelve of it's residents didn't make it out. The survivors are feeling forgotten because of the bigger stories.

An understandable focus on arson is being pushed by the media, particularly from the overseas press. One man has been charged, two released after interviews. (The multiple fires that have been investigated and 'aren't suspicious' don't make good headlines - but already they outnumber the 'suspicious' fires.) Both the Callignee and Marysville fires are 'suspicious' or 'arson' partly because they were unexpected or extreme.

But while it's vital to minimise arson attacks by every means possible, they are just one of the ignition sources, and it is the conditions and fuel that make the fires the size and ferocity they are. We can't stop all fires, we can only minimise those that occur, and we need to protect people and homes better.

Lessons are coming out of the disaster, but societies are still poor at making fundamental changes even when as hard hit as this.

Tomorrow we will be going to make care packs for kids. One of a million small efforts that show someone cares. There are other things to talk about, but in Victoria right now, none of them are as important.

James

1 comment:

sahlah said...

Thank you for this ground level account of the happenings. Right now our media seems to be fixed on that iconic image of Sam the Koala and the fellow with the water bottles.

Thank you for making the care packs. I'm sure they will be loved and appreciated.

P.S. - I can't give blood either... same reason. Shall the tainted unite?

Take care.