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06 January 2013 @ 09:13 pm
Tasmania is burning  
Tasmania is that place that exists within and without Australia. That triangular bit off the bottom that the people who do TV maps sometimes forget, or put in the wrong place. It's seen both as a place of tremendous culture and natural beauty, and as the place where the people with two heads live, because every country has one of those. And now tens of thousands of hectares of it are on fire.

The other day it was 41.8 degrees (107F) in Hobart, which is 20 degrees above average and the hottest temperature ever recorded there. It was even hotter on the Tasman Peninsula, a place that usually has pretty much the same climate and weather as Canterbury, and is a soft Kentish green.

Now swathes of Tasmania are charcoal, and over a hundred properties have been razed. Ten or fifteen of these are up in Bicheno, near Coles Bay and Freycinet, where the most beautiful walking trails in the world snake through forests of tall eucalypts, past white sand beaches, and granite ranges where giant trees soar up above orchids so small that you will only see them if you walk slowly, and look down.

Now the towns, mostly reliant on tourism and niche products, like jam and venison, are filled with smoke as volunteers fight to save them. The weather has cooled over the weekend, but there is no rain, in a place where there is always rain, and every day and night the fire crews fight to keep the blaze from jumping their lines. Boats are at the ready in the bays. If the roads are cut, people will shelter on them should the town be lost. 

On the Tasman Peninsula, the town of Dunalley is smouldering. Sixty-five homes have been lost there, and the school. People who did not get to their cars before the roads were cut off fled to the water, with mothers sheltering with their children under the jetty, and boats taking on as many people as they could before they started to sit too low in the water.

At the moment about 100 people are missing in the area. Most of these will be found alive: there are people sheltering in many parts of the peninsula and power is down, so communications have been patchy. The fire there moved quickly, so people fled with nothing, not even phones, and who carries numbers in their heads these days? The police are searching buildings, but it is slow, and they are sifting through ashes, so it will be a while before they know if anyone was caught. So far there have been no confirmed deaths, and because the Black Saturday fires in Victoria the other year have primed everyone to go as soon as the alert comes, perhaps this time luck will prevail and everyone will be found alive.

Over a thousand people sheltered at Port Arthur. It's a large historic site, that is haunted by its past as a penal colony, and as the site of Australia's worst mass-homicide, where 36 people were killed by a madman with powerful guns. His actions saw automatic and semi-automatic guns banned here, and since then – 1996 – there has not been a single mass-killing by a gunman. Out of something horrible, something good came.

And so it was again. In a place that has seen such anguish, this time there was hope, as emergency services held the roads open and the carparks filled with the vehicles of refugees: many locals with their treasures stuffed into the boot and pets on their laps, but also many tourists, who had expected a quiet camping holiday in the beautiful Tasmanian wilderness.

Tourist ferries ran every hour they could, evacuating all who wanted to go. In Hobart, which is safe, those who have nowhere else to go are camping in public halls. Locals are turning up with food, water, nappies, changes of clothing and toys. And money, because Dunalley is gone, and the sawmill is ash, and that was where most of the jobs were. A family of seven needed to catch a flight to Brisbane from an airport two hours north, and two Taswegians turned up with their cars, happy to be a free taxi service.

Back at Port Arthur, those who didn't want to leave are camping with the staff and locals. They have shelter, food and a place of safety for pets and stock they have brought with them. The children have games supplied, and generators are being shipped down, because the power may take a month to reconnect.

One man shakily said that he had filled the car: goats, dogs and the cat, and got them all out alive. Another, the owner of the sawmill, shook his head and said, 'That's six or seven million dollars gone. And fifty years of my bloody life.' Insurers will pay out, and the government will help, because this is a rich country, but Dunalley will still be a town that is mostly gaps.

Meanwhile, in Port Arthur, cars sit lonely in the carparks. Many of them are rentals. Several rental companies have told those who fled that they will charge them each day until the cars are returned.

On Tuesday, it will be 43 degrees in Sydney. Twenty fires are already burning in New South Wales, but volunteers from here and Victoria have still gone down to Tasmania to help put theirs out. They have family preparing to pick them up from the airport with their kit in the car should they need to do a quick turnaround. Around the country, fire bans are in place, and warning levels are creeping up: Severe, Extreme, Catastrophic.

People in rural and regional areas have made their plans, packed their Go Bags, prepared their stock and kept the pets close. Those of us safe in the cities can smell smoke on the air – hope it's from backburning – and make plans to put a bit of money into the Red Cross this month, and wish never again to have those days when the sky was an inferno and burned gum leaves fell on gardens in the inner city, 25km from the nearest blaze, but carried on heat-fed gales that dried jeans on the line to crispiness in minutes.
mayela_delaruemayela_delarue on January 6th, 2013 11:06 am (UTC)
Shame on those hire car companies!
Yay for Aussie spirit.
Devastated I didn't go and see Tasmania in all it's glory before this. Will be sure to go after, and take my tourist dollars to share locally.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 6th, 2013 02:14 pm (UTC)
I'm hoping Julia tells them they're UnAustralia!

Parts are totally unaffected, it's really quite a big place. But I am hoping that Freycinet is not hit too badly: it's so very beautiful and those animals will have nowhere to run to.
embolinaozembolinaoz on January 6th, 2013 11:12 am (UTC)
Bushfires in Tassie?? It's just not right! Here in Adelaide we hit 45 on Friday and thanks to very little wind got away with a only few spot fires and nothing major. Here's hoping everyone's okay in the Apple Isle and that the rest of us get them the help they need asap.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 6th, 2013 02:18 pm (UTC)
It's just madness. And it was 47 degrees in Hay today.

It reminds me of the climate scientists I saw in an interview talking about studies they did around 2000 that showed they could expect Victorian temperatures to soar by the end of the decade. They actually rounded down from the computer modelling, because they assumed that the predicted maximum 48 was an outlying figure and that they would be better off sticking to a predicted top of 45, which had more data points.

In the lead-up to Black Saturday, of course, it was 48 degrees.

I think the help is going well, I just hope that it's all rescue and recovery and that everyone got out in time.
(no subject) - ozdobe on January 6th, 2013 07:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Kareinakareina on January 6th, 2013 11:28 am (UTC)
Damn it, it is not so good to have a way with words when reading them makes one cry. Luckily, today's folk singing class has a break after lunch to do a walk in the -15 C weather before we resume for more singing, so my nose should be clear again by then.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 6th, 2013 02:21 pm (UTC)
Sorry! I would love some of your cold if you could send it south!
(no subject) - kareina on January 7th, 2013 06:20 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - blamebrampton on January 7th, 2013 07:49 am (UTC) (Expand)
auntpurl: shit LOMauntpurl on January 6th, 2013 11:48 am (UTC)
Wow, sounds devastating. I hope the fires are got under control very soon and that everyone is safe! And certainly hope you continue to be far away from the worst of it. :(
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 6th, 2013 02:20 pm (UTC)
If I am ever in danger here, then the whole country is lost and I will expect you to punch a climate-change denier in the mouth in my memory!

It's hard to get them under control without rain, and I am afraid there is no rain due for a while. Of course, traditionally, it will then flood …
quatrefoilquatrefoil on January 6th, 2013 01:41 pm (UTC)
I think I've been protected - I should have been in that area this weekend but for my decision to leave because my family were being awful. But I can't watch what's happening to my beloved home state.

Please, has anyone heard from Snorri?
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 6th, 2013 02:11 pm (UTC)
The good news is that while the loss of property is not good, people have been remarkably well protected. The emergency response down there has been really very good, and the ABC and local media have done a great job of getting warnings out as quickly and widely as possible.

No news from Snorri at this point, but if he is on the peninsula, they literally have no power aside from generators: all the lines are out. I'll let you know if I hear anything, the Facebookers might get news earlier, but J says no news there that he knows of.
(no subject) - quatrefoil on January 6th, 2013 09:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - blamebrampton on January 7th, 2013 07:52 am (UTC) (Expand)
Meredythmeredyth_13 on January 6th, 2013 02:34 pm (UTC)
I know it may seem like a cop out, but this is part of why I don't enjoy living in Aus any more. As a child with a semi rural life I lived through fires that threatened our farm, and droughts that lasted years and left the rivers empty and the land crying. I've lived through floods that almost killed us. As an adult I was in Canberra for 2003, and Melbourne for Black Saturday. I've had my farm wiped clean by locusts.. three years in a row. I've had to ferry in antibiotics for my horses over flooded bridges when we had a metre and a half of rain in a week and their legs blew up like balloons. It's a beautiful, terrible country, but if you live on the land it will break your heart over and over and over. And once you know what means, you can't escape it even when you move to the city.

Even on the other side of the planet this hurts. Sure, no human life may be lost so far, but millions of animals, native and domestic, will be killed. And
Of those that survive, countless more will be injured, or suffer and die from lack of water and feed over the coming weeks. Ancient trees will be lost and never have the chance to be replaced due to human involvement. And Gunns will use it all as an excuse to destroy all the woodland they can.

blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 6th, 2013 02:48 pm (UTC)
In one piece of good news, Gunns is in receivership.

I know what you mean: I had little idea of the Australian 'normal' before The Drought hit. For the last few years, people have been saying that the weather has been more what they remember, if wetter, but now it looks as though the dry is back. Drought and Flooding Rains indeed!

What annoys me is when politicians like Abbott say 'Oh, but that's normal' when even old cow cockies in their 90s are saying 'never seen nothing like this, all the old patterns are gone.'
Seshetasesheta_66 on January 6th, 2013 03:24 pm (UTC)

Amongst all of the destruction, it's heartening to hear of the human kindness. Here's hoping no lives are lost.

*kicks the car rental agencies*
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 7th, 2013 07:59 am (UTC)
*Kicks them with you!*

Today, fishermen and recreational boaties have been doing runs down to the peninsula to deliver food and other supplies, and to help evacuate those who want to leave without cars. Brilliant.
oldenuf2nboldenuf2nb on January 6th, 2013 05:04 pm (UTC)
Oh, my God Brammers. That sounds utterly devastating. Not that it compares, but we had a horrendous summer here in Washington state. Hundreds of thousands of forest acres burned in the middle of the state. My daughter and I were driving to Seattle, and we could at one point see the plumes from six fires. The air here in Spokane looked worse than L.A. on a bad day in the seventies, and I lived through that too. My mom is an asthmatic on oxygen, and there was a two week period when we couldn't even take her out of the house.

Thinking of all of those affected, both people and animals, and praying you all get a break in the weather soon. And wanting to smack those politicians in this country *coughRepublicanscough* who say there is no global warming.
nevernot_brokennevernot_broken on January 6th, 2013 07:46 pm (UTC)
So well said. Seeing everyone rally around has been great, boats heading over to the peninsula every day with supplies etc - all civilian - and the donation centres overwhelmed with volunteers and donations.
Hoping the cool change on Tuesday night brings rain but no lightening! I've lived in Tassie my whole life and have always loved it because weather like this is so rare.
Nennenenne on January 6th, 2013 08:05 pm (UTC)
It sounds awful! I really do hope everyone got out alive. That is of course the most important thing.
Jocelyn Lavingroolover on January 6th, 2013 09:42 pm (UTC)
I had somehow missed that this was happening. Thank you for telling us about it (and so descriptively).
jamie2109: general - bloody rosejamie2109 on January 6th, 2013 10:14 pm (UTC)
I well remember 4 years ago and the almost paralysing fear these catastrophic bushfires create. I have family in Tasmania, some are still missing, some lost outlying buildings and some escaped altogether (and some live nowhere near the fires). My cousin that lost outlying buildings, sheds and stuff, was in Part Arthur when the gunman went through it. She was one of the tour guides and luckily was able to keep her group safe. She's not been able to work since though.

And we're sitting in over 40 degrees today, praying that the rest of our Shire doesn't go up in flames. Experts are expecting that the rest of the range that didn't go up last time - all the way out to and around Lake Eildon - to burn this year. And this year we have a bumper season for tourists because the lake is full and the weather hot. I guess a full lake is a good place to take shelter if the worst happens.

I can only feel for the people of Tasmania. Know exactly what they're going through. And pray that everyone makes it out alive. So many lessons have been learned from Black Saturday, but the one thing we cannot and will never get right is how to prevent bushfires altogether. The nature of our forests is that they do need to burn occasionally and history shows that they do. It's what keeps them healthy. It's man's incursions and desire to live in that beauty that puts a human toll on what (in most cases) is a natural phenomenon.

Doesn't make the pain and heatbreak any easier to bear.
Jaeenchanted_jae on January 6th, 2013 11:02 pm (UTC)

I hadn't even heard of this! I'm so terribly sorry to learn of it now. What an awful tragedy, and I do hope all escaped the fires and are sheltering safely. Keep us posted on any sites where donations may be made.
Dragonfly_lily: Sydneydragonfly_lily on January 6th, 2013 11:54 pm (UTC)
I'll be in both of those places in less than a month. I'll be sending extra prayers, regardless.
rosesofnightrosesofnight on January 7th, 2013 01:09 am (UTC)
Keeping Australia in my prayers -- for Tasmania, and also for the rest of the country where fires may be happening, and you're coping with extreme heat :/ We've got a cold snap happening here, hopefully it pushes up northwards!