Image from The Age, a couple of days ago
I want to write something about the fires here in Victoria, but I don’t know where to begin.
I mainly want to let you know that none of my family or personal friends are directly affected – so at least I am doing that.
My friend Kelly has also done a post about the fires: Victoria Burns and a Nation Weeps.
I have been feeling so overwhelmed by the tragedy that I am not functioning very well – mainly just depressed and distracted, I suppose. The whole thing has come on top of immense heat waves and for me, dental issues that have involved a lot of pain but are being resolved now. I wasn’t in a really great space before it happened, is what I am trying to say.
I live in the city of Melbourne, which is the capital of the state of Victoria. We live in an almost-inner suburb, well away from any bush or risk from bushfires. Melbourne’s population is about 3.8 million people, and it is fairly famous for its “suburban sprawl”—the suburbs stretch on and on forever.
Last Saturday, the day the fires broke out, Melbourne had its hottest day since records began in the early 1850s. It got to 46.4 C (115.5 F), and it was even hotter in some places outside the city. The previous week we had several days of extreme heatwave as well, and there hasn’t been any rain for ages.
I want to stress that all this is not normal! Victoria has a pleasant, temperate climate—it has its hot spells and cold spells, but is generally easy to live in.
On Saturday the heat was accompanied by gale-force winds across the state, which gives extreme fire danger. Warnings were put out, sport and horse races were cancelled, the governnent said not to go out unless you really had to. Frank (my partner) and I stayed home—we were not going anywhere.
By Sunday morning the news reports were coming in about the fires and the death and destruction they had brought. I tweeted the following on Twitter, at about 1 p.m:
“Heartbreak here in Victoria – state still on fire – many dead or lost homes”
At that time they were saying there were 35, then 50 dead—I was sitting there looking at The Age website, and the page reloaded and it said “65 dead”. I couldn’t believe it. There were reports of burnt-out cars everywhere with human remains in them, and large burnt-out areas that hadn’t been searched yet.
We also discovered a fire a few kilometres away from my mother’s place in Central Victoria had destroyed homes—we only learned a day or so later there was one death and 57 homes lost. I felt like there was a big black hole in my heart. I went up to spend some time with Mum, and as I write this on Wednesday, I have just returned to Melbourne.
Reporting the fires
By now the horrific stories from survivors are filling the newspapers. I don’t normally read the newspapers or watch TV, but I did both while staying at Mum’s. I do read The Age website, but the stories are much more graphic on the telly and in the Herald Sun (Melbourne’s tabloid newspaper).
The worst stories are the ones about people who had to flee and leave others behind, people losing family members, the horrific injuries, and pets and other animals that didn’t survive.
I thought the reporting on the telly has been fairly sensitive for a change, and not as nausiatingly intrusive as it can be—maybe the situation is so grave that the media don’t need to go for that extra “shock value”, like they usually do.
Many of the fires are thought to have been deliberately lit. The tabloid newspapers make more of an issue of this than other news services, and I suspect from what people are saying online that news services overseas are emphasising this.
While it’s awful that people do this, I don’t personally think it is as prominant an issue as it might seem—simply because the conditions that day were so extreme that anything could have started those fires. I was interested to see that Kelly downplayed that side of it too, in her article [update note – see Kelly’s comment below].
As it stands, there are 181 people confirmed dead, and the Coroner is preparing for 300 – there are many people still missing. The fires are still burning—firefighters are struggling to stop two large fires from joining together at the moment.
Here are some websites of interest:
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