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10 February 2009 @ 06:58 pm
Much as it pains me to take issue with The Times ...  
It seems incomprehensible to some media commentators that over 181 people could die in fires in Australia. They have been casting about, trying to place blame, saying that things were done poorly, done wrong.

This is not true. What is true is that the right things to do, the things that kept you alive in every other year, every other fire, are now no longer necessarily right.

Everyone who lives through an Australian summer has some experience of bushfire, even if it is only red-blazing sunsets in smoke-filled skies. The trees explode on the hot summer days, and half the flora is designed to regenerate after burning.

There are rules. You choose whether you will leave early or stay and fight. If you're leaving, you pack your papers and photos, grab the kids and pets, make sure you have water and towels or blankets in the car in case the worst happens, and you leave before or when you see the smoke. Lock the house and tell the fire brigade where it is. They'll do what they can.

Stick to the main roads, drive steadily, obey the police or the fierys, pick up pedestrians if you need to. When you get to the evacuation centre, give your names and details, call your friends. Let the officials know if you move on.

If you stay, you fill everything you can inside the house with water. You wet everything you can outside. Clear all debris from around the house (you should have done this weeks ago). Use a tractor if you have one. Fuck the garden, you can replant. Bring in the pets. Have the car nearby, have the keys in your pocket. Have your backpacks of things each of you really need ready to go. Do what you can for the horses. If the flames are small and slow, you can stay outside and keep hosing. If they're fast and large, go in. Close everything. Put wet towels around every gap, have a ladder near the roof access. Stay down, keep the kids together; the bathroom is a good place, it's cool and strong and you can sit them in the bath. If you see flames coming inside and can wet them, do so. Wait till the front passes.

This is what you do in a normal fire. This is what you have time to do in a normal fire.

When it passes, you run around the house and put out the flames that are starting inside. You climb into the roof cavity and wet down any hot spots. You go outside and use your generator to pump water from the tanks, or the pool or the dam to hose down the roof and the property. If the house is too well alight, you leave it. You grab the kids, pets and packs and you climb into the car and drive away. The car is usually all right; it's the embers blown by the wind that have set fire to the house. You can often drive out through the burnt region, there's nothing left for the fire there anymore. Your tires may be a bit fucked-up by the hot tarmac, but it doesn't matter, you'll get to the country fire authority, or the town, or the sports oval.

This is what happens normally.

You stand around with the CFA and the SES and the Parks service and every other firefighter, and you shake hands and you say thanks, or bad luck, and you pitch in if your house is standing and your neighbour's isn't, and you see about handing out sausage sandwiches and cups of bad coffee and good tea. The CWA ladies bring cakes and fruit and toys for the little ones and make sure the fierys all have a good feed and get some sleep. The McDonald's managers and the local takeaway owners bring trays of juice and water and burgers and sandwiches, the pub brings beer by the slab.

Every year, it happens. Houses burn, livestock are lost, and people turn to each other and say that it sounded like a train, that the fire moved as fast as they could run. That they lost the house but the kids are okay. It's horrible, but it's normal.

None of this is normal.

This fire moved faster than any car, twice as fast in some places. The noise was like a jet engine, they say, and the oxygen was sucked from the air leaving people sheltering inside gasping desperately as the front passed. The weather had stood above 40 for a week, the air was crisp and the vegetation bone dry. On the day the fires swept through it was 46 in Victoria.

It's never 46. Never. Not till now. The records were shattered by several degrees.

The radiant heat has been described as like Dresden. Houses were exploding into flame ahead of the firefront. While normal ember attacks give you a decent length of time for the house to stand before it is unsalvageable (the eaves and under the house start smouldering, small fires begin, but it's usually after the front has past that the house really catches light), this time large properties were gone in minutes. Normally the embers strike when the fire is up to a kilometre away, this time it was many times that.

Some people trying to escape died of dehydration before the fire reached them. Others who escaped the flames had skin crisped from their bodies as they ran well ahead or away. Some lived, and are in hospital fighting for their lives now. Cars have turned into makeshift crematoria, sometimes beside trees that are scorched from heat but not burned.

There were warnings where there could be warnings. All day the ABC and the local stations kept as far ahead of the fire as they could, but for Kinglake and some other towns, the fire moved faster than the news. The brigades were mostly fighting established fronts, trying to keep them from residential areas. The new fronts took them by surprise, many coming from nothing, possibly from arsonists.

I know that it is human to look for blame. I know that there are many who are angry and who wish to say that something or someone failed. But for the most part, no one failed. It was impossible to succeed.

There are systems. This country is used to fire and plans accordingly. The fire danger is rated from 1 to 100, so the authorities know how prepared they need to be, how many crews they need in place. On Saturday in Victoria, it was 320. More than three times worse than the experienced authorities had imagined they would ever need to prepare for. There was no way that people could deal with those flames.

And still they went out and did what they could. When I worked for the parks service in NSW I helped in two safe areas of two comparatively piddling fires. I was scared to the bones, and I am someone who keeps her head in a crisis. The sheer mental toughness of everyone who went up against those fires cannot be overstated.

So if your news service starts with the question 'what went wrong' and answers it with anything other than 'nature is a fucking bitch in Australia', please tell them to piss off in your best Hugh Jackman tones.

The lovely and admirable Ms Quentin Bryce, Governor-General of Australia has just made a gentle and compassionate plea to the nation to help where they can. In the far north of Queensland, people who have lost everything but the house in severe floods (because Australian nature s a fucking bitch with a truly twisted sense of humour) have been donating part of their emergency payments to the fire victims. The continent may be a place of horror, but the Australian people have genuine grace.

Thank you so much to everyone who has reached into their pockets to help people and animals recover from this disaster. The Australian Red Cross will take any donation from A$5 up. That's essentially a coffee.

During the writing of this post, the number at the start of this post has gone up. The police say that it will go up more.

Drooling Fan Girldroolfangrrl on February 10th, 2009 10:06 am (UTC)
Sounds like a firestorm.


I trust you're safe.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 10:11 am (UTC)
I'm a state away, so quite safe. We often have firestorms, they're 90-100. This is ... unspeakable ...
_aurora_sky_: Forlorn Rickman_aurora_sky_ on February 10th, 2009 10:12 am (UTC)
I don't even have words for this. My partner's boss (my ex boss) is from Australia and her father's house burned, his car on fire as he fled. He's ok, but it really brings it all home. What's even worse is that, at least in Southern California, one place that can really sympathize with wild fires, we're getting virtually NO COVERAGE -- even the national channels are barely covering it.

Thank you for the link to the Red Cross -- Australia needs the world's help <3

blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
Fuck, I am so glad he got out. There are so many stories of remarkable survival -- two friends of friends sheltered with their kids and car between two concrete water tanks while one of the fronts took their house. And this morning there are stories of a woman who survived by hiding under he floorboards of her house. Just amazing!

Try smh.com.au for an easy to use website with decent coverage, or www.theage.com.au for the Victorian paper, though I find their site a little messier.

You're right about help, after 11 or so years of drought the coffers are a bit dry for most relief agencies. If you could ask your friends to donate the price of a coffee or two, every little bit will soon add up! Thanks so much for your thoughts and care, they really need them down there.
E McGeemelusinahp on February 10th, 2009 10:12 am (UTC)
It's so horrific. I'm in shock.

So much love and strength to the people suffering from and fighting against the fires.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
I've lived here for years, Mel, and I even fought against the holiday fires in '94, but I have never seen anything like this. The more I hear and read the more amazed I am that they got anyone out. Reading this: http://www.smh.com.au/national/why-a-town-was-left-without-water-tankers-20090210-83id.html sent shivers through me.
Agreva: Merlin - Contemplativeagreva on February 10th, 2009 10:16 am (UTC)
It's absolutely devastating what's happening! The company I work for is asking all staff to donate at least $10 to put towards the relief... It's something at least!

I'm still quite stunned that this has actually happened, it took me a while once I first heard about it to actually be able to understand the complete loss and damage this has caused.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)
That is so clever and practical! Good thinking your company! Mine has a food and blanket drive, alas, it began yesterday it's all going out today when I am off, but I have sent off some donations and will do some more when my next invoice is paid.

Victoria always has the worst fires due to its geography, but I'm with you, it's just so far beyond anything I could have imagined. And how wonderful were those Queenslanders handing over their relief money?
(no subject) - agreva on February 11th, 2009 12:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
nahimanaemerald_dragon8 on February 10th, 2009 10:22 am (UTC)
It's so horrible. When I came home from work and saw people trying to place the blame I just wanted to cry. None of it brings back people that have been lost.

Thank you writing this post. These are things that need to be said, and you've said them very articulately.
nahimanaemerald_dragon8 on February 10th, 2009 10:55 am (UTC)
I hope you don't mind, I've linked to your posts a couple of times - they've said it all so much better than I ever could. Let me know if you'd like me to take the links down. ♥
(no subject) - blamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 10:52 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Catscatsintheattic on February 10th, 2009 10:46 am (UTC)
I'm too shocked for words.

But I went to the Australian Red Cross website and donated 50 A$. It's not much, compared to the amount of disaster and suffering, and I hope to be able to give more once I have better knowledge about my financial situation. But it's a start.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you, cats! And that's a week of food, or two night's shelter, or a whole set of clothes. It's a real difference. Thank you.
(no subject) - catsintheattic on February 10th, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Meredythmeredyth_13 on February 10th, 2009 10:51 am (UTC)
Word, love.

and it pains me that our own media, looking for something 'dramatic' in a situation that is so far beyond dramatic it is incomprehensible, are airing stories from people who are already blaming here.

I started to rant, but frankly, I'm too tired.

You've said it all, and so much better than I could.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)
I do understand blame, it's so hard to just look at something like this and say nature is a cunt, or, if you're religious, to understand it in terms of any kind of just god (an aside: that anti-abortion arse who has been declaring it god's wrath? His home phone is at the bottom of his press release on the fairfax sites.)

But you can't apportion blame for something so unforseeable. All we can do now is help, and I am so loving you for everything you have been doing. You're a bloody wonder.
shadowedkit on February 10th, 2009 11:10 am (UTC)

Thankyou for this post- it has given an added perspective as to what the rules are for bushfires and gave an added understanding to the situation- something that will be repeated to anyone who starts blaming anyone other than mother nature, and arsonists.

Thankyou for giving links to donations that also include helping animals recover- I have had a few people ask in the last few days, but thankfully our banks and organisations are giving us the ability to donate without needing credit cards- something I will be doing on payday.

That being said, alot of my friends and coworkers have been waiting to get in contact with friends and family. I have been extremely lucky to hear from the people I was worried about as of yesterday, some of my associates are not so lucky.
We are all in shock. Some people have been able to shake it off-but not many. We are not California and we may hate you for sport- but NZ and AUS generally go together in solidarity. There is a lot of sorrow,shock and emotion from people at the moment. And the horrible stomach-pit feeling of not being able to put the world back to rights.

blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 11:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your thoughts and aid that you can send to Victorians, it makes a real difference.

I have to confess there was a little welling at this end when your new PM came over all ANZAC and just sent firefighters and cash. Just lovely. I hope that there has been some better news for the people your people have been looking for. Some of the stories of survival are just astonishing, while some of the losses are just piteous. Thanks again, Kitti.
hpstrangelove: aaaHarryAndSeverushpstrangelove on February 10th, 2009 12:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you for taking the time to explain to those of us who really aren't familar with these kinds of things. I'm glad you're safe too.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 11:18 pm (UTC)
Glancing around the international papers yesterday, I thought a little explanation would not go astray.

I'm fine, I live in the heart of a different city, on a hill. I'm natural disaster-proof for the most part!
Blytheblythely on February 10th, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)
That was exceptionally clear, thank you for writing this.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 11:19 pm (UTC)
I always find a little context helps in any situation.

This chap said it all far better from on the scene, though: http://www.smh.com.au/national/why-a-town-was-left-without-water-tankers-20090210-83id.html
(Anonymous) on February 10th, 2009 12:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for writing this. The facts and figures are horrible enough on their own but hard to really understand from a cold, rainy country on the other side of the world. Put like this ...

There are just no words.
oopsoddishly on February 10th, 2009 12:36 pm (UTC)
... and that was me.
(no subject) - blamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 11:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - oddishly on February 10th, 2009 11:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
the pirate queen of norway: fire on the mountainashkitty on February 10th, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
Found your post via a link from someone else. It's very well put--humans like to think that we can control everything, and and when we can't, rather than deal with the fact that we're tiny little specks in the universe, we look for someone to have screwed up. We are rational creatures, constantly hunting for reason, for cause and effect, and so we look for answers. One is arrogance I suppose and the other just curiosity, but either way we don't like to be reminded that sometimes, the humans lose. Nature is bigger, stronger, fiercer, and doesn't play by mortal rules. It makes some people heroes, some people lucky, and some people casualties. It's genuinely amazing what lengths some people can go to, what they can manage in the face of something so devastatingly powerful. But some still lose everything, and some still die. And the best and bravest and most sensible plan in the world won't keep everyone safe all the time.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 11:26 pm (UTC)
I agree entirely. And there will be years of commissions and inquiries coming out of this to see what can be learned. For now, I wish all the media would focus on aid rather than look for pat, and probably wrong, answers.
sassy_cissasassy_cissa on February 10th, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
*sending hugs and positive thoughts*

Thank you for a post that brings it into perspective for those of us not getting decent news coverage.

blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC)
*Adds some more of mine and sends them all south*

You're very welcome. I know from the London Bombings who frustrating it can be to be many miles away from something that you want to understand and help with, and have not enough information coming in. XXX
Bubba: the Peaceful Buddhaabsynthedrinker on February 10th, 2009 01:06 pm (UTC)
I have watched the news with horror. I was terribly worried about you and am glad to discover you are out of harm's way. I lived through the Pebble Beach fire of 1987 and still occasionally have nightmares about it. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your compatriots. Be safe

blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 11:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Bubba. I live within fairly easy walking distance of the Sydney Opera House these days, so aside from big tsunamis and hail storms, am almost entirely insulated from natural disasters. I am just relieved that all of my friends have so far been safe. I'm so sorry that you have first-hand experience of fire, thanks for your thoughts and prayers for Victoria, you know exactly how much they need them.
nolagalnolagal on February 10th, 2009 01:38 pm (UTC)
What little I have heard and read is horrific. I live in a community that was devastated by natural disaster over 3 years ago and the effects are still huge. My thoughts are with everyone struggling with this disaster. I also understand the desire to blame but it sounds like there was nothing to be done, it sounds terrifying actually.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 10th, 2009 11:42 pm (UTC)
It is terrible. You know exactly what it's like when you have to make hard choices about leaving or staying. It's heartbreaking to hear the stories coming out of Victoria, where every decision seems to have been an unprecedented gamble. jamie2109 has been down on the scene, and her posts convey much of what it's like. And then there was this news story: http://www.smh.com.au/national/why-a-town-was-left-without-water-tankers-20090210-83id.html