Thursday, March 5, 2009

It's over

After a day and a half of moderate rain (never so welcome before) the worst of Victoria's 2009 bushfire period is most likely over. Last Tuesday was like awaiting the reports of a bombing raid.

Fiddleheads of ferns, Marysville, October, 2006. Burnt, February 7th, 2009. James.

It was expected to be a high fire danger day, exceeding the factors of 1939's Black Tuesday, but through luck, some less than expected weather factors and high alert by the whole state (including a first of a text-message to all Victorians from the police) it was beaten off. There are, incredibly still fires burning - four major fires are no longer a threat, but are being closely watched. Yesterday and today had steady rain in Melbourne, and low winds.

The Age:

THE worst of Victoria's catastrophic bushfire season is over, authorities say. Rain across the state has brought an unofficial end to a ruthless summer.

Many residents forced to flee are now safe to return home. About 1000 interstate firefighters are also going home. So, too, are 121 from New Zealand, Canada and the US. One hundred and fifty NSW police went home yesterday, while 50 from South Australia arrived to reinforce local numbers.

Famously Margaret Thatcher said "there's no such thing as society". She was wrong. It was the social networks, local, state, national and international that has shown that we can cope with natural disaster, and that people do care and will selflessly help their community. To address her quote in full, people showed that they were prepared to put their neighbours before themselves, as fire fighting volunteers (some who lost houses and even family members while defending their fellow Victorians) as those who gave from caravans, houses, gifts, food and time, that they could well have used themselves. The Government played a part, but it was on the ground that the difference was made, as even the politicians recognise.

There's a lot of hard work still to be done; those lost won't be brought back, and the losses to all are, of course, irreplaceable, but it's clear that much morale has been built on incredible, unprecedented gifts, from the CFA and SES volunteers, support from around the world, and particularly across Victoria and interstate. There's a lot to be proud of, as well as being grateful it wasn't worse, as it so easily could have been.

Some statistics, for once, tell the story. over 4,500 km² (1,700 Sq Miles, 450,000 hectares, 1.1 million acres) burnt - an area greater than the whole of Surrey, England. 2,029 homes ( 3,500 structures in total) destroyed, and thousands more damaged. Many towns north-east of the state capital Melbourne have been badly damaged or almost completely destroyed, including Kinglake, Marysville, Narbethong, Strathewen and Flowerdale. The fires have left an estimated 7,500 people homeless, and killed 210 people, with 30 more still missing and over 500 injured.

The falls at Marysville, 2006. James.

The bush will grow again. We humans will find it hard, with damage to water catchments, tourism economy knocked sideways, and many people who faced a nightmare unable to return. We have to learn from the worst bushfire disaster in Australia's history, and learn that nature observes few limits. However for the bush, it's all part of the natural cycle.


Margaret Thatcher's quote in full: "They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours." We did, and will do, better than that.

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