Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Fires Part 61 1/2

I worked Black Saturday. I was glued to the radio all day, listening to the information about the fires from local ABC radio.

I finished work at 6pm and drove home, still listening. It was so hot and I was not in a good frame of mind after spending a day in the 40 plus degree heat. We were going to the local pub with friends for dinner. R and I had a nasty little argument. He refused to go and I went on my own. He was in bed when I arrived home about 9pm. I tuned into the radio again until about midnight.

For the whole day, as they had for the previous week, the non specific warning had rolled on and on. I was well aware that the fires were big and serious, but at no point did I pick up that decent sized towns were under threat. The radio just droned on and on, enact your fire plan. Go early or stay and defend. (Insert town name), is under threat of ember attack. Residents should be aware that they may be threatened by a fire.

What actually happened was mega fires roared across certain areas, consuming everything in its path, houses, buildings, cars and people the same. It was only from peoples' own observations that some knew fire was coming.

The Royal Commission will come up with its conclusions, but I already have some of my own.

In these days of satellites in the sky, able to pinpoint anything, phone signals that travel over the air waves, phones that use a satellite signal, television, radio, sms and god forbid, the old fashioned fire siren, is it not possible for fire authorities to note the direction of the strong wind, see a big fire and tell folks in a town, there is a large fire approaching, pushed by very strong winds, the like of what we have never seen before.

Our official advice is to GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE.

Could no one see the fires and where they were headed and warn people? Seems not.

I slept fitfully that Saturday night, waking every so often to tune into the radio to hear what was happening.

By next morning, ABC Radio had reporters on the ground in Marysville. I can't remember what was said, but I had also heard about a fire in Bendigo where Sister and Little Jo were. I called her to see if she was ok, and she was, although she had her car packed are ready to go to the centre of town. I must have heard something about Marysville though, as I said to Sister, it looks like Marysville has gone. At that point, I had no idea of the death of nearly a couple of hundred people at various locations.

The last thing I would want CFA volunteers and DSE ground staff to think that I am being critical of them. Nope, the blame surely must lie with what I think has become a large paid bureaucracy at the top of or within the CFA and perhaps to a lesser extent, the DSE.

One person, looking at a screen showing incoming information from human and technical sources could have made a few phone calls to someone in charge in different areas and tell them to evacuate this and this and this town.

Now what shall I do. Watch surfer boys on Waikiki Beach, the horrendous traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge or a tiger giving birth at Amsterdam zoo, seeminly all a lot easier than fire watching.


  1. "Now what shall I do. Watch surfer boys on Waikiki Beach, the horrendous traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge or a tiger giving birth at Amsterdam zoo, seeminly all a lot easier than fire watching."

    Actually, I'll have to disgree with you there, Andrew. Watching paint dry sounds like it'd be more fun that watching any of those.

  2. There's just no excuse, there's been warnings for years that there were too many chiefs and not enough indians.

  3. Anonymous10:20 am

    i really dont know. the prob i think was that there wouldnt have been enough time for people to evacuate...say with an hours warning? chaos on the road and still there would have been people who refused to go.

  4. Anonymous3:07 pm

    One bloody big disaster.. I also could not sleep that night, after having worked, and worked alongside people who got calls from neighbours that their houses were burning, and then from others to say neighbours were missing..awful!

  5. Brian, you have me worried that my point did not come across, that is, how easy it for me to sit at home and see such things, but apparently watching fires is much harder.

    Jayne, volunteers may well be disappearing and it will be up to the DSE, which will require a huge injection of money to the department. You know, as do I, that the local knowledge that volunteers have is irreplaceable but they are so hamstrung by bureaucracy, they are becoming more and more impotent.

    Hi Anon. First comment on my blog? Welcome. Last first, people who refused to go, fine. They can take their chances. Fires like on that day do not just spring up from nothing. There was more than an hour to warn. People should be already on alert, packed and ready to go, as some were anyway. While yes, there aren't multi lane freeways to escape on, there are police available to direct traffic. Not everyone would leave at the same time. Everyone will be heading in the same direction, so no counter flow traffic and little cross flow. If more than one town is being evacuated, there well may be a snarl when different roads from different towns meet up, but that should be a good distance away and police can direct some traffic to alternative routes. The fires always follow the same path, blown south by a northerly wind, and then savagely swing back when the cool change arrives. Very predictable.

    Wow Cazzie, that must have been awful. Apart from Sister's experience, I had no contact personally with the fires. Btw, someone at my workplace has the pig flu.

  6. Andrew,

    Your point came across just fine. Unfortunately my inappropriate sense of humour seldom fails to miss the mark.

  7. Damnation that pig flu!

  8. The thing that perplexed me about Black Saturday was that there was no smell of smoke, no stinging of the eyes, no obvious smoke clouds. I live in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, about 20ks? perhaps from the Kinglake fires. We went out into the back yard when it had clouded over at about 4.00 o'clock. We saw a big white cloud against other clouds in the sky, and debated for a while whether it was a thunderstorm cloud or smoke. We just didn't know what we were looking at.
    None of this invalidates what you've said, and certainly the video footage of the sky alight around Marysville is chilling and other-worldly. But at least from the northern suburbs, not all that far from the fires, it didn't seem to be the usual bushfire presence.

  9. The big large cloud would have been smoke. The time seems about right. But yes, it is puzzling. You would be south of the fire, which was being blown by a northerly wind. Why no burnt gum leaves? Do you think after we had had smoke hanging around for the preceding weeks, perhaps you were a bit desensitised? It is strange for sure. What an extraordinary day it was.