Australia Fair

One of the things I’ve learned in the few years of running this site is that the world is huge and enormous and international postage is expensive, but thanks to the internet, the world is also much, much smaller. I know we have readers from all over the world, and now countries I hear about on the news aren’t just places I have trouble finding on a map (Hey, whaddya want from me?! I’m American!) but places where people I know and talk with online live. So when bad shit happens there it makes me feel both powerless because I’m so far away, and at the same time strangely closer and connected, because those places have become personal for me.

Over 130 people have been killed and the death toll is rising with what appears to be arson wildfires consuming southeastern Australia. Bitchery reader Fizz wrote to me:

South-eastern Australia is covered in fires. The fires have been burning for three days. As of seven-thirty this morning, they’d found over a hundred dead bodies, most of them in cars because they’d left it too late to leave. Hundreds are injured. Dozens are missing. There are towns that waited for the fires to come on Saturday night and literally didn’t exist by Sunday morning. The town of Marysville usually has about eight hundred people living in it, got hit on Saturday…and there’s one building still standing. In the whole town, there’s only one. Kinglake and Kinglake North have about a thousand people between them – they’re left with a handful of houses, a pub and a market garden. That’s it.

Thousands of firefighters (most of them unpaid volunteers) are still on duty. They’ve brought the Australian Defence Force in to help. We’re fairly used to fires – some kind of bushfire is pretty much a guaranteed yearly event – but there’s never been anything like this.

What boggles my mind is that they were deliberately set, and that some news accounts I’ve read indicate that after fires were controlled, people were going back to reset the contained areas so the fire would spread again. It’s so hot and so dry that the fire itself moves over 60mph, and people have little to no warning should the flames change direction. People took refuge in animal burrows, football fields, or in reservoirs.

I have a post set to go live on Friday that talks about Australia’s Library Lovers’ Day on 14 Feb, and while I’ll still allow it to publish, I imagine surviving the fires and finding any survivors is more of the focus right now.

There is more information from the Australian Red Cross and the Sydney Daily Telegraph and News.com.au have extensive coverage of the disaster.

So to all our Australian readers: stay safe. I’m so sorry this is happening to you.

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  1. 1
    Julianna says:

    The news stories I’ve read have been heartbreaking.  So many people have lost loved ones; my heart goes out to them.

  2. 2
    Lori says:

    Having lived in California for many years I know how frightening and destructive these types of fires are.  My heart goes out to everyone effected.

    Unfortunately these large fires are almost always arson.  As Alfred noted in the last Batman move, some people just want to watch the world burn.

  3. 3
    rebyj says:

    Yes, the stories that are coming out are just horrifying. My thoughts are with our neighbors down under.

  4. 4
    Kaetrin says:

    The death toll is up to 173 now, with 750 homes lost.  These fires have the dubious honour of being the worst “natural” disaster in Australia’s recorded history. (query how “natural” arson is though).  Some of the fires were from dry lightning strokes and some were from arson.

    The stories are heartbreaking.  However, I am really proud of the way us Aussies have already banded together.  By Sunday night, the Govt. was announcing Centrelinke (Social Security) payments to all those affected and funeral benefits for those famiies who lost loved ones.  The defence forces have been called in to assist the fire fighting effort and a community rebuilding fund of $10million was se up and an appeal was launched, the Federal govt. putting in $2million and the Victorian govt. $1 (or 2?)million.

    An international cricket game scheduled for today in Adelaide (where I live)  is now a benefit game with all proceeds going to the appeal, including the Aussie player’s match payments.

    Emergency service workers from all round the country are there helping or on their way, including forensic people etc.  and donations of food and clothing and money are pouring in.  Even the Red Cross is getting more blood donations.

    So while I’m really sad, I’m really proud too.

    Thanks for your thoughts Bitchery.

    I hear that some fire experts may be coming from the US to help out too.

  5. 5
    JoanneL says:

    One of the first romance authors I ever read was Margaret Way and although her early books were filled with enough exclamation points to sink a ship her descriptions of Australia and all of it’s beauty, from the flowers to the ocean to the history of the land, captivated me and brought more pleasure then I could ever repay.

    I send nothing but prayers and good thoughts to the people of Australia and all of those heroes we call firefighters.

  6. 6
    Fizz says:

    The body count just went up.

    They confirmed at least 173 deaths at 8:15 this morning.

  7. 7
    Grace says:

    This is just so awful to watch from a distance – I can’t imagine what it’s like up close. Australian friends, our thoughts and prayers are with you.

  8. 8
    jeanie says:

    As a longtime lurker (and very occasional commenter a while ago), I am coming out of my closet to say thanks.

    I am a long way away from the fires in Victoria or the floods to the north of my state and feel so helpless.

    As an earlier commenter said, today’s cricket match has become a benefit.  One of our major supermarket chains, Coles,  is donating all profits on Friday to the appeal.  People are giving money, blankets, food and blood.  The government is giving the army and benefits.

    It is awful that this tragedy happened.

  9. 9
    Teegstar says:

    I’m another longtime lurker and just wanted to say it means a lot that people so far away are thinking of us all the way over here in Australia. Thanks for your thoughts guys.

  10. 10
    Silver James says:

    As a retired firefighter and disaster specialist, been there, done that, and my prayers are with all the firefighters, first responders, and the victims.

    Unless you’ve seen one of these fires up close, you have no idea of the magnitude. They create their own weather systems and the flames have voracious appetites. All you can do is get out while you can. Don’t wait. Don’t bet your life or your family’s lives that the fire will miss you.

    My heart goes out to everyone involved, along with a great deal of pride in the way Australia is handling the disaster.

  11. 11
    Saam says:

    It’s been great to see that bloggers from around the world are taking note of our tragic circumstances. I live in Adelaide, South Australia where we regularly have bushfires – driest state in Australia. This weekend is expected to be another high fire danger time. Still, this is absolutely shocking and numbing. I’m still waiting to hear from some friends that moved to country Victoria a few days before the fires began.
    I feel very proud to be an Australian though, seeing the way everyone is banding together to get folks who have lost everything through this crisis. Red Cross Australia has a bushfire appeal – I donated this morning. Already they have collected over $15 million to help those in need. Firefighters from the other states, healthcare professionals, volunteers, Tasmania has donated feed for displaced stock. We’re all doing whatever we can to help. Just knowing that people on the other side of the world are thinking about and praying for us helps too.

    PS Just received SMS from my friends, they’re safe!

  12. 12
    meardaba says:

    My heart goes out to everyone in the Australian states that are affected, but I’d just like to point out that one of the reasons so many bodies have been found is that people aren’t leaving their homes early enough.  This may be an incredibly unpopular thing to say, but in Canada we get lots of wild-fires too, and if a town or home is threatened everyone is FORCED out.  If you refuse to leave the RCMP show up and take you away.  We have one of the lowest fatality rates in the world during wild-fire season.  I know one of the reasons people don’t want to leave is because of the threat of theft, but here the RCMP also then take responsibility for the homes that are in the danger zone.

    Maybe it’s time for Australia to enact a similar policy?  It may be unpopular, but it’ll save lives.

  13. 13

    I’ve been following the news via the BBC website, which has had a lot of coverage of the fires (as has the Guardian). It seems horribly ironic that across here we’ve got snow and flooding and, on the other side of the world, you’ve got drought and terrifying fires. We can’t share any of our damp, cold weather with you, but there are lots of us in the UK thinking about you.

  14. 14

    I’d just like to point out that one of the reasons so many bodies have been found is that people aren’t leaving their homes early enough.

    From what I’ve read, these fires have been moving incredibly fast, far faster than is usual. Some of the reports mention that people who got the news and were preparing to evacuate thought they’d have a couple of hours to pack and get out, but in some cases the fires arrived much sooner. One eyewitness told the BBC that:

    I was on my way home to Kinglake when police closed the road due to the approaching fire. There had been no sign there was a fire close by – the nearest was 80km away across the mountain, but it was moving so fast it managed to travel that distance in 30 minutes.

    The police closed the road, but we couldn’t go back the way we came as the wind was blowing the embers off the mountain and down the valley, so spots of fires were happening everywhere which meant the road back to my sister’s house also became blocked by fire.

  15. 15
    Sarah L says:

    The first thing I thought of when I heard about this was the fire in The Thorn Birds. So heartbreaking.

  16. 16
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    May I add my condolences to all affected by the fires in Australia.

  17. 17

    I’d just like to point out that one of the reasons so many bodies have been found is that people aren’t leaving their homes early enough.

    Meardaba, in the situation that occurred on Saturday, this isn’t the case. It wasn’t an ‘ordinary’ bushfire. Australians are accustomed to those, and we have an effective policy which encourages people to make the decision early whether to stay and defend their homes, or leave early. In the vast majority of cases, it works well.

    But on Saturday, it was firestorms that hit those communities – with only minutes notice that there was a fire anywhere near. Firestorms of incredible power and velocity, that travelled many miles in minutes. People in well-prepared homes, who normally would be able to defend their homes, were forced out into the open, trying to escape, when their houses were engulfed.

    While it might be said that we could have anticipated firestorms in the particular weather conditions, there is NO way that emergency services could have predicted where the firestorms would hit; no way that people had time to evacuate well in advance. The conditions were right across the state – and you can’t evacuate a state. Some people in bushland environments did have a little time to go into the towns – but then the towns were devastated, too.

    I know that there’s a temptation to want to explain things – not necessarily to cast blame, but to find some ‘reason’ for what occurred, to make it easier to feel okay that it won’t happen again if only we do x, y, or z. But the tragedy is that sometimes you just can’t do anything.

    I live a long way from Victoria, but I have family down that way, and cousins who have been in the path of another fire for the past two days. Fortunately, conditions have eased, so more firestorms are unlikely, but the ‘usual’ bushfire danger still remains, and I’m still checking the news regularly throughout the day. As the authorities go through the devastated areas, the death toll continues to rise. And I think its significant that no-one has mentioned a figure yet for those unaccounted for – I suspect the toll will rise further yet.

    Very, very sad.

  18. 18
    prue says:

    Yep, this is horrible. It got within 1km of my parents house in Bendigo and they were under ember attack all night. Some people weren’t so lucky. My heart goes out to them.

  19. 19
    Karrin Jackson says:

    Seconding Bronwyn. Sometimes you can do everything right and it still goes terribly wrong. In some cases, the fires were moving so quickly the CFA didn’t even have time to warn people. There are many survivor accounts coming out saying people saw a red glow on a distant ridge, and then suddenly their homes were engulfed in flames. These fires are outrunning cars. It’s unimaginable.

    I have good friends in Victoria, and thank goodness they’re safe. My heart goes out to Australians caught up in this crisis.

    Heh, my word key is efforts78. In that spirit, you can donate to the Australian Red Cross, and for the critters, the Australian RSPCA. Those with a few extra bucks to spare, no matter where in the world you’re at, don’t have to feel helpless.

  20. 20
    ev says:

    I hope each of our friends here on the blog get the chance to check in to let us know that they are ok.

    This whole thing is so sad and just downright pisses me off. I hope the find the bastards who started the fires and throw every book and everything in them that they can. No I am not a forgiving person when it comes to something like this. 

    The way that your government has just jumped right in is awesome. That the people are is no surprise.

    My heart and prayers go out to everyone there, because I am sure everyone will be affected in one way or another.

  21. 21
    Jacqueline Nunan says:

    Thanks for all the kind thoughts and prayers for our bushfire victims.  Now, all we need is rain, no wind, and for someone to catch up with the arsonists.  There was a report this morning that two of the deadliest fires were lit by the same person; all of the fire deaths are being treated as homicide because of the extreme likelihood the blazes were deliberately lit.

    A lot of us who live close by are still in shock that the hill communities have been erased so easily.  We humans are such arrogant things, thinking we have some power over nature … we love to live among the trees, in the driest continent on earth, and are surprised when fires result.

    Meardaba, there is quite a lot of debate here as to reviewing what’s called the “stay or leave early” policy.  I’m guessing the outcome will be following the Canadian example – maybe they’ll call it “leave early, and stay away”.  The survivors, the families of the dead, and the shellshocked bush communities have learnt the hard way that bricks and mortar is worth nothing compared to human life.

    The worst thing, for me, is that Saturday night, I was sitting on my daybed, enjoying the cool change coming through, and rereading my favourite Jo Beverly (My Lady Notorious, since this is the SB). The northern sky was full of sand and smoke, and things looked eerie, but I had no idea Kinglake and Arthurs Creek and Strathewen were being obliterated, just less than 15 kilometres away.  The guilt is enormous.

    If only our arsonists felt the same way.

  22. 22
    Tabitha says:

    My heart breaks reading about this. How anyone can think to destroy one life much less these many lives is beyond evil. My prayers go out to all those affected.

  23. 23
    EJ McKenna says:

    Thanks so much for your good wishes,
    I’m in Melbourne, and therefore safe from the hellfires.
    The community response to this is reassuring – people are donating money and blood, clothes and blankets. It’s galvanised people into action.

    We’ve seen fires before, but nothing like this. This is a whole new ferocious beast.

    It’s so tragic and horrible and heartbreaking to see my home state in flames. The emergency services crews are so brave I don’t know how they do it.

  24. 24
    Anna V says:

    As others have said, there simply wasn’t time to get out.  The roads aren’t exactly easy to evacuate large numbers of people with little warning either.

    It’s heartbreaking.  I can’t imagine how the volunteers are bearing up under all this.

  25. 25
    Kat says:

    I think the fact that Australians are generally pretty well prepared for bushfires is what makes this even more tragic. There are people who have helped others only to find out that their own families have perished. There are areas where media helicopters aren’t allowed to go because officials don’t think the public is prepared for the images they’ll see.

    It seems horribly ironic that across here we’ve got snow and flooding

    Laura, we have flooding up in North Queensland, too. They’re also in need of disaster relief.

  26. 26

    The news, the numbers, is so bad I just feel numb. I find it hard to believe it’s real, even though I know it is.

    But I don’t feel numb when I read the idiots in the local paper playing armchair expert, lecturing people about what they should and shouldn’t have done, ticking them off for not having fire plans, even though people with fire plans have told how the ferocity and speed of the fire meant the plans were useless. Can’t defend a home if your hoses are melting. Can’t plan to escape when you have mere minutes of warning, which is all they had.

    And then you read this kind of thing, and the rage flares white hot:

    The evangelical church’s leader, Pastor Danny Nalliah, claimed he had a dream about raging fires on October 21 last year and that he woke with “a flash from the Spirit of God: that His conditional protection has been removed from the nation of Australia, in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of innocent children in the womb”.

    How can anyone, let alone a Christian, come out with this garbage? As if the victims haven’t suffered more than anyone could humanly bear already?

    Sarah, thanks for thinking of our nation, and I hope people will remember those who need help in the coming days and months.

  27. 27

    My heart goes out to everone affected.  We were evacuated during the San Diego fires last year and it was chaos.  Not much time to get out in a surrounding, fast-moving fire.

  28. 28
    Tinkerbon says:

    I spent most of this afternoon surfing the ‘net looking for Australian media coverage of the fires (best source of news is always the closest media), as all this brought me back to the Firestorm of 2003 in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_Okanagan_Mountain_Park_Fire

    I was visiting family there when 239 homes on the outskirts of the city were incinerated. Thankfully not one life was lost, but I remember all too well how the city seemed on the brink of a natural disaster. I helped to evacuate my sister’s household, and driving out of their subdivision with 30+ feet flames reaching over the crest of the hills just beside the road is a memory that will never leave me.

    My heart goes out to the Australian people, and my prayers are with them during this time of suffering and loss.

    — Bonz

  29. 29
    Reality Helix says:

    My good lord, someone did this on purpose!?

  30. 30
    meardaba says:

    (I knew this would be an unpopular comment…)

    My apologies to anyone, I was a) reading older articles apparently, and b) read the one linked in the SBTB entry too quickly.  Thank you to Jacqueline Nunan for explaining myself better than I did.  I understand that the bushfire that ripped through Kinglake was like nothing ever seen before.  I was commenting on the “Leave early or stay” policy that they do have.  I feel like perhaps had the policy been focussed evacuation then containment, instead of letting each person decide themselves (perhaps without the proper information) with the authorities focussed mainly on containment, fewer people would have been caught in the insanity. 

    I am truly sorry for everyone affected, I know how devastating losing a home to wildfires can be.

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