Monday, February 9, 2009
Hell in all its fury
by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
I had no intention about blogging today about bushfires but events over the weekend have compelled me. Just outside the city I grew up in, Melbourne, Australia has just experienced the worst bushfire in Australian history. The death toll currently stands at 130 with over 750 homes lost. Some towns have been razed to the ground and, as the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said yesterday "Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria."
I am grateful that all my family and friends are, as far as we know, safe and well, but some of images (like this one) brought home just how close this tragedy has come to Melbourne. This view is from Doncaster, the suburb of Melbourne where my sister-in-law lives, and you can see the fires raging on the horizon. These bushfires occurred as Melbourne sweltered under the hottest day on record - it was 115 degrees on Saturday with gale force winds.
I have to reflect that the weather is now so unpredictable - snow in London, 115 degrees in Melbourne, floods in far north Queensland - extremes that are rare but stunning in their impact. I fear with global warming that such freakish weather patterns are only going to get worse as well as continue.
I was in Melbourne when the last bushfires of such magnitude occurred on a day in 1983 that is now remembered as Ash Wednesday. While the bushfires never reached Melbourne, I remember walking into our backyard late that night and smelling the smoke, feeling the ash that was literally raining down on the city. On that day some 47 people died in Victoria - which still pales in comparison to the number lost this weekend. I cannot even post some of the photographs of this weekend's devastation as they are just too awful to bear. People died without warning in their homes or in their cars fleeing the fires. It all happened so fast that for many there was no way of escaping.
So today's blog has nothing to do with writing mysteries but is rather a reflection on the fragility of our lives as well as our planet. Whenever a tragedy like this strikes it's hard not to feel isolated and helpless - even if we lived in Australia I'm sure we would feel the same. I know my sister and brother-in-law (both doctors in hospitals in Melbourne) are no doubt fighting the second 'front line' with the injured. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone as they recover from what must have been an unimaginable hell. Even as a writer I could not even begin to describe how it must have felt to have witnessed this and, as fires continue to rage across Victoria and the investigation crews start combing through the ruins, we still do not know the full magnitude of this tragedy.