Thinking about Victoria — updated

09 Feb

This trumps all entries on my blogs today.


Satellite image of the Victorian bushfires on Saturday afternoon

And by Sunday…


On the ground…


66 dead so far in Victoria, 600+ homes destroyed.

And that picture was taken in Gippsland, Victoria, a week ago!


This is by far the worst bushfire disaster in my life time – I turn 66 this year — and I have been close to some big ones in my time too. For comparative natural disaster records see List of disasters in Australia by death toll.

For the south-eastern Australia heat wave (ongoing, and currently – I am writing this on Sunday and a cool change is predicted — affecting Sydney too) see 2009 Southeastern Australia heat wave.

Many locations through the region have reached all-time high temperatures, Adelaide reaching its third-highest temperature, while Melbourne reached its highest temperature on record. The heat wave is predicted to be the worst in the region’s history…

Many areas in central South Australia, northern Victoria and inland New South Wales regularly experience temperatures over 40 degrees for 1, 2 or 3, sometimes more, consecutive days during the summer months. During the heat wave however, many of these regions experienced temperatures over 40 for twice as long or more, on average, than is normal for that time of year. Coastal regions and the ACT experienced slightly lower temperatures, however these were still above average and prolonged.

While coastal regions may have experienced shorter periods of heat wave, for the time that they did experience temperatures over 35, they mostly reached the top 3, top 5 or top 10 all-time temperature records for a number of days. An excellent example of this is Melbourne, which had only 3 consecutive days over 40, yet each of those days are now in the top 10 (being 2nd, 5th and 10th) all-time temperatures recorded in that city.

The heat wave was perhaps most extreme in northern and eastern Tasmania, where 7 of the 8 highest temperatures ever recorded in Tasmania occurred during the heat wave…

Meanwhile, thanks to a slow-moving monsoon pattern, Heavy rain continues to drench flood-stricken north Qld.

See also Weatherzone News.

Jim Belshaw has an excellent post: Victoria’s fires – at least 14 dead, written Sunday morning.

Monday morning update

It is considerably cooler here in Sydney today. The bushfire death toll in Victoria now stands at at least 108, with 750+ homes destroyed. See Bushfire Emergency on the ABC site.

Update 11 February

There has already been a degree of speculation and comment about the connection, if any, between this event and global warming — a reasonable issue. Needless to say argument from one event is fraught with difficulty either way. Only a fool would assert there is no connection, while equally no substantial argument from this one event can be made in support of the proposition either. However, do study Monday night’s Australian Story "The Heat of the Moment".

Many have pointed to unique characteristics in terms of the intensity of the Victorian fires, the Victorian Premier being just one:

…We talked a moment ago about the "stay or go" policy, and I think one of the things in the future if that policy remains in place, the levels of fire protection and fire preparedness that we’ve got in place is going to have to be much, much higher. And I say that because the climate is changing, we are seeing more extreme events. We had parts of the state on Saturday, as you know, where the temperature was 48 degrees. You know, it’s 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the old scale, with 100km/h northerly winds. So, we are gonna see more extreme weather events…

What occurred on Saturday – I mean, I saw the aftermath of Ash Wednesday in ’83, but as gruesome and as terrible as that was, I’ve never seen anything like what I’ve seen in the last two days. And, to talk to the survivors from Marysville or Kinglake, they will tell you that the fire moved so quickly, it was moving at 40, 50, 60km/h. It was coming down the main street of Marysville just like a series of rolling, burning balls. And it just incinerated everything in front of them. Now, these are extreme climatic conditions, but the experts would tell us unfortunately we may see more of these in the future. So, again, all of these issues will be examined…

The Premier also refers to the religious primitivism of the unfortunate Pastor Danny Nalliah who "suggested the fires in Victoria may be God’s punishment for liberalising abortion laws." As do I, he finds this grossly offensive. God is not so clumsy in his methods for a start, and if he is he is hardly deserving of respect, let alone worship. Compare Kooky crap indeed from Paul Walton, minister of the Centenary Uniting Church, Brisbane, Australia.

I am adding to this post a PDF copy of the 2005-6 CSIRO report on bushfire risk in Australia. It makes sobering reading, whatever one may think: CSIRO Report on Climate Change and Fire Risk. You may follow that with a search of the CSIRO site.

Kudos to ABC Local for its work in keeping Victoria and the rest of Australia informed over the past several days.

It is feared the death toll will exceed 200.


I have added temporarily a feed in the side bar to all blogs tagged “bushfires”. Naturally I do not read them all, and do not choose them – but some really good things are appearing over there. It lags a little, but clicking on the feed heading takes you to the latest. One nice one is Good Hearts Shine Through the Flames.

…The times now are really bad. Horrible. So many dead people, so much damage, so much heartbreak.

But I bet I’m not the only one who feels today that Victoria is not bad, after all.   We’ve looked through the smoke and past the burned timbers, and we can see something very alive among the ashes.

It’s the good heart of Victoria

Then there’s Victorian Bushfire Disaster from Sheree, a CFA firefighter.

…To think mother nature is capable of such destruction is one thing, but to think that people are responsible is far worse. It is mass murder.

On the other hand, it makes me proud as a Victorian resident, as a fire fighter and as an Australian to see how well we all come together in times of crisis. There are so many people affected by this disaster and so many helping to make it better.

To all of my fellow CFA volunteers, good on you! 12 hour (at least) shifts in exhausting situations is something we should all be proud of. There are so many people behind the scenes who often get taken for granted; those who prepare all of the food for us firefighters (Paul the Pieman muffins are the best!) and making hot food for us at 3am, thanks guys! And there are just so many more giving their time and efforts to help relieve some of this disaster.

The heroic ongoing support from communities near and far is what being Australian is all about. I extend my sympathy to all those affected and my admiration to all those doing their bit to help in this tragedy which will leave scars for many years to come.

That is followed by original photos.

Update 12 December

For those for whom his words have resonance I commend PostKiwi Duncan’s God in the Firestorm, and am pleased to see South Sydney’s Dorothy McRae-McMahon referred to there too. For that see Liturgical Resources: “In the grieving: after the fires”.



7 responses to “Thinking about Victoria — updated

  1. Benjamin Solah

    February 9, 2009 at 9:34 am

    It got to 46 where I am (northern suburbs of Melbourne) and we lost power for two hours. It’s pretty full on down here. A friend of a friend lost their house.

    I got an ok photo of the smoke on my blog on Saturday.

  2. Kanani

    February 11, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    As someone who goes through what seems to be yearly conflagrations, my sympathy to everyone over there. I know what a toll this takes on people. Last year, the bush fires were 4 miles from my house. The entire house and the air outside stank for weeks. I feel ill due to all the stress and ended up with a respiratory infection and on antibiotics.

    None of the homes taken out in October have been rebuilt. And a friend who lost her home in Laguna Beach, CA over 12 years ago, never quite recovered either financially or emotionally. She got divorced, and moved house this past year to the desert of Arizona.

    I’ve seen the photos of the starving koalas. Those break my heart, as I know this takes quite a toll on the wildlife.
    xxx Chin up, Neil…

  3. Neil

    February 11, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    This time they are a long way from here, but it’s not impossible that later we may have our turn closer to Sydney. My niece is in a fire area, for example.

    It is the scale of the current Victorian fires that is truly mind-boggling.

  4. Boris

    February 11, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    thanks for this post Mr.W.!

  5. Neil

    February 11, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    Thanks, Boris.

    Boris is an ex-student born, if I remember correctly, in Sarajevo, Bosnia. An interesting thought, that, in its way, about the things that happen in one’s lifetime, and about the nature of Australia.

  6. tikno

    February 16, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Here, in Indonesia, when I watched TV, I can not imagine how terribly these disaster.

    Are you OK, Neil ?

  7. Neil

    February 16, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Yes, Tikno. It’s a long way from Sydney.

    I’m not sure if you would have heard this story.

    Overseas firefighters and victim identification experts have arrived in Melbourne to help with the bushfire effort.

    Around 70 firefighters from the United States and Canada are on hand.

    Firefighter Doug Alexander from the US National Parks Service says they are planning to stay for about a month.

    “I think that they are similar to what we have in southern California and what we’ve seen up in Montana,” he said.

    “There’s a lot of similarities … you’ve had drought for 15 years now and you have high fire intensity and rapid rates of spread.”

    Meanwhile eight Indonesian Disaster Victim Identification experts will begin work tomorrow at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine.

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