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Fire Season and Climate Change

Is History Repeating Itself? 

( The following is an excerpt from Norma Holt’s account of those terrible Canberra Fires in 2003)

“They say the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again but expect a different result”

“The real shock in Canberra’s residents, when fire hit this city, was the distance the fire travelled into the suburbs and the speed with which it moved. In the end we had less than an hour from the time it hit suburbs several kilometres away until it was on our doorstep. By that time it was pitch dark as the power had gone, the radio had stopped and the phone was only just holding out. (Not many mobiles back in those days) One forgets that infra-structure is one of the first casualties of a big blaze.

Know where the safe refuges are in your area and have a map in case you get lost. Go over the escape route and practice it with any family members, particularly children. People were trapped in their homes during this particular event because they took refuge in bathrooms, swimming pools and under their houses. None of these saved their lives.

After severe drought that had inundated the area for many years, the conditions were perfect for what took place soon after.

The Australian climate is harsh and anything can happen and usually does but staring down the approaching fire on that day was something the residents will never forget. For about a week beforehand the smoke was clearly visible in the south-west. It certainly did not look threatening. While in the Namadgi National Park it was too far away and inaccessible for many of us to worry about.

But the strong south-westerly wind that arrived soon after the sun rose on that particular day rapidly pushed the fire into many new areas as the embers went flying for several kilometres at a time. They hit the fuel lying ready to explode into flame on the ground and the explosive fireball quickly extended upwards into the canopy of the eucalyptus forest that surrounds the bush capital.

On reaching the suburbs uncleared gutters, old wooden fences and inappropriate plantings in gardens added to the risks as they burst into flames. Fences readily caught alight and led the fire straight to the eaves and the gas pipes with plastic seals. One man told of how he watched the gas escape and send the fire into his roof as he stood by watching the house subsequently burn to the ground.

Those fires of 2003 took human and animal lives while the suffering of surviving animals touched everyone. The symbol of that day became a badly burned koala that was constantly featured on the news as she slowly recovered from her painful wounds. The catchment areas around the dams supplying drinking water were polluted with dead animals and other debris and for up to a year afterwards we used filters for tap water.

That year events started a new run of several more seasons of drought and fires throughout Australia in which thousands more eventually lost their homes, livestock and all too often their lives. Four years later the drought ended with massive floods, an inland tsunami, and entire cities and towns inundated with water. People and animals died and homes were once again destroyed.

Stock losses and the destruction of agriculture that this country has suffered over the last ten years is repeated in other parts of the world as climate change takes hold. This is a stark reminder of what will continue to happen unless governments, people and property are better prepared and take appropriate steps to meet the challenges ahead.

My view of the world is that we can’t change what is happening but we may wake some people up to the fact that they can change their lifestyles and help the environment before it is too late.” – Norma Holt

A sobering reminder of just what can happen in an instant!

Stay safe where ever you may be this fire season..

Alex

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