blamebrampton (blamebrampton) wrote,
blamebrampton
blamebrampton

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.

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