I am a member of august clubs and societies around the world but the membership I most treasure is that of a volunteer fire fighter in the local brigade. To be judged worthy of a place on the fire ground is, to me, the child of immigrants, a pearl beyond price precisely because it is awarded, not by the great and good, but by tradesman, farmers, shopkeepers – the least in society who have judged me capable of serving the community. I am so proud. A month ago I was part of a strike team sent to Northern New South Wales for a week to grapple with their fires, I even got a lift home in a C17 Globemaster.
We are currently facing bushfires near us affecting five times the size of last years California blazes – 500,000 Hectares, 1.2 million acres across the Northeast of Victoria and into New South Wales. Our truck was called out to join a strike team of five tankers at seven am on New Years Eve to go about a hundred miles north to grapple with the edge of the monster which we did, leaving our tanker for a changeover crew early on New Years day.
Today is the critical day for us. We are forecast to experience a hot gusty dry North wind and about midday to receive a violent, gusty Southwest change which will change fire directions over ninety degrees. There are at least two dead and twenty plus missing. Two young Firefighters were also killed when a "fire tornado" overturned their ten ton truck. The Northeast has been declared a disaster area and been under evacuation orders for days except for those who want to try to defend their homes. The Defence forces are helping, a Navy ship has just lifted a thousand from a remote beach community, however helicopter operations are hampered by a smoke cloud that stretches all the way to New Zealand.. No doubt more will follow because these fires struck at the height of the summer holiday season. Most tourists have followed advice and evacuated themselves. Only some locals, firefighters and the odd idiot remain. There are some communities cut off who must try to shelter in place.
The fear of the command – that we hope is not realised, is that these dozens of out of control fires are going to join together and create a firestorm of a size not seen before by humans. The scientists have stated that their models cannot predict what is going to happen, these big fires create their own weather. Our efforts today are focused on lives and critical infrastructure. Hopefully their concerns aren't realised. Hopefully our brigade, with its replacement truck, will be held in reserve, ready to defend our local area. Hopefully there are enough young crew so that they don't need an old fart like me today and hopefully are domestic fire precautions will not be needed to defend our home.
My policeman son rang this morning to say he now understands why the emergency services managers are paid so much. They are probably going to have to explain to a coroner what they did today.
The cause of these fires? Australian drought and the highly inflammable nature of the Eucalyptus tree – coupled with the forest management fantasies of inner city liberals who won't allow anything like the levels of fire reduction burning as practiced by our Aborigines for thousands of years. The greenies can't handle simple logic; Eucalyptus forests shed fuel all the time. You can have little "cool' fires every five years to clean up the fuel or a big fire every few decades, but you eventually will get a fire. You do the maths.
I hopefully will be able to write an anti climactic comment tomorrow for you.