A small piece of good in the Australian fire news

Discussion in 'The Watercooler' started by mstang67chic, Feb 12, 2009.

  1. mstang67chic

    mstang67chic Going Green

  2. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    We're fine. It's overcast here with an occasional light drizzle of rain. Actually, they've had the same weather in Victoria which is helping the firefighters, although the winds and the heat is due to pick up again on the weekend. For them and for us.

    Currently the township of Healesville is in danger, although the Healesville Zoo is currently safe. It is closed though, although they are bringing wildlife to Healesville Zoo for vet treatment. It's an old established zoo with one of the first successful breeding programs in the country.

    The story of Sam the koala is a special one. Koalas generally get all the water they need from the eucalypt leaves in their diet. They will drink, but only if really thirsty. From the sound of it and from what we've seen, Sam was dying. She would have been dangerously dehydrated if she drank so much, without that water she probably would have been dead of kidney failure within hours. And for a wild koala to be so apparently tame - she must have been desperate, they won't allow any person near them, as a rule. And she put her paw on his hand! He told our news that some of the water was dribbling down her fur and pooling in his hand, so when she put her paw there, she would have been getting some pain relief from the water in his hand. He went through three bottles of water (each one about half a litre) but she was wearing a fair amount of it. The film was taken by his daughter using the mobile phone; she filmed it so they could take a record of it home to show family. But interest in it has been so strong that the film is now gonig around the world.

    Like a lot of our firefighters, David Tree is a volunteer. Sam was found before the worst of the fires on Saturday last week. The tragedy of Saturday's fires is amplified when you realise there really isn't much wildlife to rescue. Again, this reflects what we went through in Sydney in '94 - while the human rescue swung into action, so did the wildlife rescue. But the sad thing was, the wildlife rescuers were left with little to do. I remember a large Swamp wallaby that took refuge in the garage next door, it was fleeing ahead of the fire and was uninjured (although with the intense heat and gale-force searing winds, it would have been badly dehydrated). But the adrenalin shock probably finished the creature - the neighbours said it died half an hour later. By then the kids & I were evacced out on the boat.

    I've been watching the coverage on TV, our media have been (in general) very sensitive and generous. There have been the usual parasites, especially the usual culprits in the print media (Miranda Devine, you've really outdone yourself!). But today the TV programs were discussing the necessary emotional recovery needed. The current CEO of the Red Cross was our local MP at the time of the '94 fires, he also lived in the area so he experienced the same conditions first-hand. They had a bloke on this morning, right after the Red Cross CEO, who shared about the recovery process. The Red Cross CEO gave the bloke a really supportive introduction. It was heartwarming.

    The biggest problem I found in '94 was the anger and sense of being ignored, because for us no lives were lost (in our village) but the devastation around us was immense. However, because we lost no lives or property, there was a sense that we should be grateful, when in fact we were still badly traumatised. When a few days later, lives WERE lost, we felt guilty for feeling lost, guilty for having survived.
    This time - the emphasis is very much on getting support in there, getting some sort of recognition of what people have gone through, getting people talking and having communities work together towards recovery. As I watch all this, I finally feel my own sense of recovery at last. A good thing. I can now openly acknowledge that I had a right to feel angry and overlooked before, but since then I have dealt with it.

    Of course people will still be very angry. at the moment a lot of that anger is being directed at firebugs. Some firefighters have been copping abuse, but mostly for telling people to do what they should be doing anyway. In the paper today there was an interview with one very traumatised firefighter who lives in the fire zone. He spent Saturday trying to help, rushing from house to house telling people to go, trying to redirect traffic away from the fire front (some people were heading the wrong way) and getting abused for his pains. In one area he tried to tell people to get out, to just go, but they refused and claimed they were prepared. he said a number of people claiming to be prepared were not, they were wearing the wrong clothing, for a start. And that area was razed, those lives gone. He now feels a great deal of guilt - his house was saved. He was crying that as he fought to save his house, the family in the next street were dying. But as his wife said, he had no way of knowing, he can't live for other people and make their decisions, and anyway, their hoses wouldn't have reached to the next street.

    There is some discussion now, about possibly changing the procedures, perhaps refining them. The recommended procedure is still to make a decision - stay to defend, or leave early. But now they're thinking of adding an alarm system, perhaps to be powered by back-up battery and triggered remotely by spotter plane - an alarm system which, when you hear it, tells you to get out, fast. Now. Or get into underground shelter (another possible regulation that could come in). Because fires like last Saturday's are unsurvivable. Those who survived were just plain lucky, in most cases. Or they got out erly enough to be well ahead. For a lot of people, they had no idea it was so bad. And again, I remember this too. I was angry at the lack of information we had, it was part of the "we're not important enough to consider" feelings. But now I can see, when they're busy fighting a fire this big, they just don't have enough people spare on the ground to simply sit and watch, to see where it's going. Also the fire can change direction so fast. A really huge firestorm makes it's own weather around it. The intense hot wind is not only driving the fire, it's being made by the fire's heat, the updraft, the hungry search for more fuel. we saw the fire change direction to follow the fuel, and the wind changed direction with it. In our case, the fire followed the town borders. We are fortunate in our own town design - we have a clear border arond the town, while in most areas the town spreads loosely over a larger area. In our place, there is a clear demarcation between town, and bush. As a result the edges get singed but otherwise we're generally OK. It often has taken lines of residents with wet sacks beating out flames on the ridge, but there is no way we could have done that in '94, that was just too huge. And that is the difference - the decision to stay and fight the fire is a sound one, if you're fit, strong, equipped with suitable weapons to fight that particular fire. But with fire storm - forget it. Get out. It's not worth losing your life to save possessions.

    Again, this confirms for me - fire storms are different. We need to respond to them differently.

    Since '94 we've had other fires (although it took quite a few years for things to grow back enough to be flammable). The last one was just acouple of years ago, difficult child 3 took photos from the balcony of the neighbour's house. The house was hit by foam from the Elvis tanker-chopper, just in case. The fire was out in a few hours and didn't get much chance to spread.

    We've also been through fires before. every summer there were fires. You'd look up and check out how many smoke smudges you could see on the horizon, and watch them to see how fast they moved. Generally we'd stay put, double-check the gutters have been cleaned out, if the fire gets nearer you stuff a tennis ball down the guttering downpipe and fill the gutters with water. But the fire storm - never stick around. For years I wished we hadn't been evacced out from the '94 fires, but now I am glad we were. These fires and the coverage I've seen, have shown me how we were just darn lucky.

    In the fire storm, you don't smell smoke. We've always counted on the intensity of the smoke smell to tell us to get out. When someone says to you, "The fire's at the end of the street!" you expect to be able to smell smoke. But the updraft was just so strong, that smoke and debris is all drawn upwards, miles into the air. We had fire at the end of the street, I went outside to let the neighbours know we had been told to leave and saw with disbelief the fireballs exploding. That is when I was shown the panicked roo in the garage next door.

    The news was just on - Bunyip Ridge fire is now contained. Healesville fire is expected to flare up and down for the next couple of days, fluctuating as the winds shift through the day. They're hoping for lighter winds over the weekend and they're hoping to consolidate fire breaks and containment lines. Fingers crossed. I suspect these fires, like last year's, will have to be left to burn until they get rained out or they run out of fuel. I think they'll be burning for weeks.

    A man has been charged over the Churchhill blaze. I hope they've got him in protective custody. People must have their day in court, he can't get off that easy.

  3. Star*

    Star* call 911........call 911

    Does Australia have the death penalty?
  4. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    No death penalty. Current penalty for arson leading to death is 25 years in prison. And that's for arson ie per fire, not per death. It's also difficult to get a conviction, because the defence is that "we didn't know people would die, we didn't mean it to be a big fire," and if there's reasonable doubt... mind you, in this situation, the extreme conditions and the many, many warnings to people to batten down the hatches and put in protective measure - there's no way anyone could use that defence, for the fires that were lit.

    Victoria was the last state to execute anyoone - Darcy Dugan, back in the 60s. I remember. I also remember at the time that he was mainly executed because during an escape he planned, someone shot a prison guard. It wasn't Dugan but one of the other prisoners, but because Dugan planned the escape, they blamed him. They wanted him no longer an escape problem. Because it was looking too much like using a handy law, the campaigns to get rid of the death penalty was successful.

    Since then we've had a number of prisoners who really would have earned the death penalty (Ivan Milat, for example) but they're in livelong lockdown.

    I still am glad we don't have the death penalty - we are learning from these nasties. If Darcy Dugan had not been hanged, he probably would have eventually been released and lived out his days with no problems. But some of the mongrels we have in our prison systems right now, will never be released. A few who are like this who do get released on a technicality, are watched so closely that they either have to go straight (if they can - which is good, if they can) or, most times, they offend again (or get caught trying to offend again) and are back inside for as long as it can be made possible.

    This works for us. I'm not wanting to start a debate on the pros and cons of death penalty; there are many differences between countries, our legal systems work very differently at times.

    I can understand people wanting to lynch a firebug; I don't think it's right. Even if we had the death penalty, it would be unlikely a firebug would earn it. They're more likely to be placed where they can get treatment; if they cannot ever be trusted, they will never be released. For us, firebugs are like pedophiles; I'm sure there is a register, even if it's unofficial. Wherever that person goes, the police will know and they will make sure the brigades know, to keep an eye on that person every summer.

    The main aim of punishment is prevention of recurrence. One way or another, we do what we can to ensure this to the best of our ability. A convicted firebug rarely, if ever, reoffends.

    Mind you, we can dream... "something hot, with boiling oil in it, I think..." Mikado, from "Mikado" by Gilbert and Sullivan

  5. rejectedmom

    rejectedmom New Member

    Marge thank you for sharing all this. your narration and descriptions bring so much more insight to this tragedy for us than what we can glean for the news. I am so sorry for your long suffering fromt he '94 fires and am glad that you have been able to further your healing. -RM
  6. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    I did a bit of digging - here is the Wikipedia link for Darcy Dugan.

    The reference about him leaving a note saying "Gone to Gowings" - that was a well-known ad for the Gowings department store (think - Bloomingdales). It was also known for selling men's clothing, among other things.

    Thanks for the kind words, RM. I've shed a lot of tears over the last week, I think it's been very therapeutic. husband is feeling the strain also, I think a lot of people who have been through bad fires, are finding similar feelings coming to the surface.

    We're now getting mor stories about successful wildlife rescue. A surprising number of koalas too. I'm surprised because they are so very vulnerable, they usually just don't survive. We have none left in our area, apart from one tagged male that was released a few years ago.

    Nearly a million acres have been burned. The most intense part of the bushfires were severe fire storm, which nothing can survive above ground level. A bushfire can be survived if you can get even into a depression in the ground and lie in it, especially if you can throw some damp earth on yourself. Even a bad firestorm will bake the ground for only a few cm down. This is despite the intense ferocity. The biggest hazard from a bushfire is from smoke inhalation and radiant heat. The firestorm - the radiant heat is worst, plus the lack of oxygen. As I said before, often you don't smell smoke because it's all going up high. But as the smoke goes up high, so the extreme fire storm ***** up oxygen and you simply suffocate. Your body will pass out unknowing from lack of oxygen, even before you are aware you're short of it. You're still able to breathe, but it's lacking much of the 20% oxygen. You only get the suffocation feeling when your blood levels of CO2 go up. If your oxygen drops well before that happens, you won't be conscious of being short of air. I guess that's a blessing.

    Of course, animals in the worst of the fires copped this as well. But we found in '94, that where the creatures were able to find a crevice or a hole anywhere, that many of them survived. We lost the larger mammals of course, but marsupials breeding pattern means they can repopulate fast (which is why kangaroos are often in plague proportions). In our area, deer were reduced to about a dozen, with no food. They were going to use the opportunity to eradicate the last of them, but few people could stomach that although it would have been the best for the environment to do it. Now we have thousands of the pests and tey are doing immense damage. But roos - a few found caves, a few found refuge in the 5% that wasn't burned. The rest - not a pretty sight. Then came the scavengers - the goannas, the crows, probably a few quolls survived and even possums would have turned carnivore for a dead roo. People in our neighbourhood were out cleaning up the bushland, clearing out rubbish only two weeks after the fires (there were still 'chimneys' burning in places, still dangerous) and found echidnas, goannas and tracks of possums. It really cheered people up.

    Not all of Victorian fires will have been firestorm, but a lot of it will have been. Patches won't have been deeply baked. It's a week now, some green will be beginning to show. The first ones to show green are the grass trees (xanthorrea) and Cabbage Tree Palms. Not sure if they have Cabbage Tree Palms in Victoria, but there are other temeprate palms, I'm sure I saw some in the footage.
    The grass trees (used to be called 'black boys', not very easy child but the trunks are short and black, crowned by a fountain of grass-like fronds) **** the sap back into the protective trunk and roots as the fire approaches. The fronds stay moist but begin to burn from the tips. Even if the fronds burn completely, they only burn back to the trunk and will re-grow fast. But faster than regrowth, is the sap returning to unburnt frond. In a week you can see six inches of green at the crown, it's like magic.

    The Cabbage Tree Palms begin to regrow, new fronds beginning to form. They have a lot to answer for - there is a lot of resin on those fronds, I use a fraction of a leave or a short piece of stem to start the pizza oven. The fronds gleam glossy brown with resin, in the fire I can watch it melt and flow. I tihnk they're more flammable than eucalypt.

    Three days after a bad fire, Banksia cones and other seed pods open their "mouths" and you see a tan-orange against the black of the soot. Seeds like slivers of burnt paper drop from the cones and fly to be lost in the ash on the ground. These will almost all germinate to form new seedlings. Most will be food for hungry survivors. If the parent plant dies and even the roots have died, then one or more of the seedlings will survive to take over. These trees look ancient even when only a few years old.

    About a week to ten days after the fires, the eucalypts start to re-shoot. The first shoots are red and grow from the trunks. Entire trees will be covered in tiny red shoots, the trees can look like velvet form a distance. But within a few more days the foliage begins to turn lime-green, still with red tips on the newest growth. The trees now look like they're wearing exotic pyjamas. We have one landmark tree along our road which has old branch scars which make it look like a very buxom woman. This tree after '94 looked like 'she' was wearing a green feather boa!

    By the time the eucalypts are green pyjama'd, the apparently dead ash plain will be full of roots coppicing, as trees which were burnt to ground level begin to regrow, from the roots which were safe underground. In '94 we worried that the waratahs would never come back because the fire storm through that area had been so bad, we felt sure the ground had been baked too deep. But no - they're there. And even the smaller flowers, the precious Flannel Flowers and Christmas Bells, they will be there in their season when the time comes. If anything, the greater amount of light reaching the ground will mean a few seasons of strong flowering of the undergrowth of wildflowers. Then the canopy will be beginning to thicken, so the flowers have only a few short years to become strong enough and tall enough to survive when the forest gets darker again. But there can be several flowering periods a year until that time; we found our Christmas Bush (actually a small tree) had double-flowerings for a number of years.

    A lot of forest will now be permanently grassland, or low scrub. Sometimes a forest has to re-grow from the edges, to reclaim its area.

    And the wildlife - there will be a lot more rescues of starving creatures over the next few weeks and months, but wildlife rescued now will be pretty much all there is. What hasn't been already rescued either doesn't need it, or is already dead. The roos will be raiding the hay drops to cattle and horses, so they'll be a nuisance for a while. Koalas will starve but wildlife rescue can help there with supplementary feeding in areas they know to be inhabited. They may have to fence of areas of forest to keep out dogs and cats, though. Normally people wouldn't do this, but when people have been so badly traumatised, every animal saved heals a little piece of the hurt.

    As the bush begins to recover, people begin to heal. While the bush will never be quite the same, it will continue to develop along its own lines and will one day, not too far away, again be a forest.

    I hate having to go through a bushfire. But I love to see recovery.

    Now we need to pray for gentle, light rain. About a week of it. Not too heavy or there will be catastrophic erosion. But some moisture now will speed the recovery, on so many fronts.

    I wish you could be here to see it. Hopefully, now the world media eye is on the fires, they will stay for the rest of the show.

  7. mstang67chic

    mstang67chic Going Green

    Glad to hear you and your family are safe and sound. My heart goes out to those who have lost family members or everything they own. Not having seen anything like this myself, it is so hard to comprehend.

    Fingers crossed and getting the chicken livers out if necessary that you have a nice long gentle rain.