Chirp!:

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    FireSTORM

    Notes from my sister.

    She lives very close to the fires, and so does her whole extended family, including friends. It's their community.
    They deal with bushfire every year. They were prepared, they do have fireplans.
    This was no bushfire. It was a tsunami of fire.

    It's different to a bushfire.
    Please try and understand - there was no warning, no way out. These people were not fools.

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    The CFA rate a fire at 100 if it becomes ‘unfightable’… due to its strength, ferocity, incredible heat and speed – the Kinglake fire was rated at 400. The people stuck in the middle of it had no CFA/DSE assistance (the Kinglake CFA truck was at Wandong fighting that fire), and did the best they possibly could under the most horrifically scary circumstances.






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    L. went to footy training last night and came away with more horrible stories from people he knows/plays footy with/etc.
    It really does break your heart.

    A is in the (local) CFA. He’s been on body collection duty the past two days – going into properties searching for those who haven’t made it… how horrible. Having lived in the area forever – him and his crew know a lot of the people they’re finding.
    They predict they’re going to find a lot more.

    L's Dad is devastated for the same reasons. Having lived in the area forever, and working in the local ... store for just about the same time, he also knows of too many people who have died.

    The story that is sticking with me though, is that of B’s friend who lives in Kinglake, who is close friends with a woman who lost her 15yr old son.
    She was out shopping – he spent the day at home. She got a call from him screaming that the windows were exploding and he didn’t know what to do – the phone line dropped out and that was the last she heard from him – how utterly tragic.
    How will she ever recover? Words don’t really express the horror.
    Apparently a lot of children have perished, being left at home on their own – their parents must be inconsolable. It was a Saturday arvo – parents were out and about (as you do) and kids were hanging about the house. Too, too tragic. All too sudden.

    M's niece & nephew are holding up well (just upset about the loss of some treasured Xmas pressies!)… but his brother is still figuring out how to tell them that quite a few of their close friends have perished. The kids are around 6 and 10 yrs of age – how do you tell kids who have spent the night terrified in their car while their house burnt down that kids they are friends with have burnt as well?

    One thing I do want to tell you though, is to please ignore anyone who harps on about people ‘leaving too late’ and being improperly prepared. These people that live in Kinglake are fire-prepared. They do have fireplans. They live with bushfire every summer and are well aware of the risks. However this fire was a ‘perfect storm’ situation. It did not behave like previous fires, nor like any fire that will follow. It was QUICK!
    M. says it wasn’t moving quick so much as one minute there wasn’t a fire – the very next there was a raging inferno & smoke too thick to see through – no exaggeration. People had NO WARNING. Some people were told they had an hour, and within 10 minutes their house was on fire. Other people were told they had 10 minutes, and within 1 minute the fire was in their backyard. Other people had no warning at all. If you had 10 minutes warning to get out and get your kids in the car – how quickly do you think you could do it? 10 minutes is NOTHING. Those who got caught fleeing were enacting their fire plan of evacuation – but the fire just did not give the same amount of ‘safe’ time as other fires. If you listen to the radio (ABC emergency broadcast 774) you’ll hear announcements telling people in certain areas to enact their fire plan now, giving people the time to flee or prepare their property to stay. We listened to the radio ALL DAY Saturday and had no idea there was a fire IN Kinglake until it had already wreaked havoc. We had no idea the fire was within less than hour from our place (turned back thankfully by the southerly change). At one point the fire was travelling 1.5kms every 10 minutes. People smelled smoke, looked out the window to see a wall of flames a couple of metres from their door – that’s the first warning they got. Those who stayed to defend their houses – who were fully prepared with all the water/pumps/etc that would have saved their home in any other bushfire were quickly overwhelmed and exit routes cut-off. A guy who stayed to protect his home only to lose the battle said that houses weren’t catching fire – they were exploding as soon as the flames reached them – the radiant heat was THAT hot… WHITE hot…. You can’t fight that.

    So yeah – excuse my rant – but I’m getting really upset hearing people/officials saying those who have died left their run too late, were ignorant of conditions or allowed panic to take over. They died because they were given no time for options. It’s actually amazing anyone survived in my opinion. I’ve had friends who have since managed to ‘sneak’ in past roadblocks to get to their stranded families and have said they wished they didn’t have to see what they have. Grown men are struggling to describe what has been left behind.. what they are seeing… it is beyond comprehension…

    We’re still pretty wary at our place. We had a fire burning 20 minutes from our place last night – but thankfully the continued southerly winds are keeping all fires in the area burning northwards away from us, and the humidity in the air has again increased and cooler temperatures reign. Still a lot of smoke in the air – a lot of very nervous people around our area. Also a lot of very sad people – I doubt there’d be anyone in our area who doesn’t know somebody who fell victim, and the knowledge that the awful tragedy, that all those people suffered and died on our very doorstep is just horrific…


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    * M from this story is my BIL's best friend. He lives in Kinglake. He loaded up the ute but his tyres ( burst? ) from the heat. Luckily a stranger picked him up. It appears his house still stands but his car is a burnt out wreck. His own brother lives only 2 streets away and is homeless. M thought he and his family were dead for 24hrs.

    * My sister also has some other friends in the area who have a wee newborn baby. Due to the heat, they decided to drive into town to a big shopping centre that morning, to relax and cool down in the airconditioning. There but for the Grace of God.......


    47 comments:

    Melody said...

    Shocking. Heartbreaking. Tragic. Where to begin? Where to end? Too, too sad....

    My dad is a man of quiet words. He has seen some terrible things being a CFA volunteer, things he will not share with me, but does with my mother. Most of the guys from the CFA have grief meetings after tragic events. A good thing. These volunteers have to work through their own emotions.

    So sorry to hear about your family/friends. My thoughts are with those in Victoria who have lost so much. So, so much.

    kim at allconsuming said...

    The whole thing is just beyond comprehension. I'm about to stop watching any coverage - particularly on the commercial channels as all the 'how could this happen' finger pointing and innuendo starts and all the gratuitous use of photos of the dead stretching that fine line of reportage and using people's harrowing stories for a better scoop than the competitor.

    Guera said...

    All these stories are just so heartbreaking. So hard to imagine what they have been through. :(

    Heather said...

    My thoughts and prayers are with everyone there.

    Anonymous said...

    Too close to home here, I know of many people lost & my cousin lost her home. Kinder teacher has lost nephew, and her FIL in intensive care - not expected to make it. Were we live was safe, but, St.Andrews is not too far away & everyone you talk too knows someone affected. Tragic. Siobhan.

    Aunty Evil said...

    This makes it all very real when in fact, it feels so surreal that this is happening.

    I worry for the people who are looking for their family. I emotionally invest in every one of them, worry for them, think about them. But there are never follow up stories, so I continue to worry.

    I saw one young woman on the news the other night who was looking for her mum. I can't stop thinking about her, wondering how she is, and if her mum made it.

    It feels wrong to worry about the trivialities of our day to day lives.

    h&b said...

    I know - i'm the same. I googled "Sam Gest" for two days after seeing him weeping and begging for news on his wife and 3 kids. He looked about my age, I guess. "Young"

    No followup, but his wife and kids were last seen in their home, which was surrounded by fire. You just know if there was a 'good news' follow-up, the media would be all over it as 'miraculous' .. so in this case, no news is bad news :(

    Siobhan - :(

    Hoppo Bumpo said...

    The most inconceivable of fires; of disasters. With each personal story comes the realisation that its a complete bloody miracle that anyone survived in some of the areas. The terror that people would have experienced as that fire raced in is completely incomprehensible.

    Stomper Girl said...

    A tsunami of a fire is a great description, really gives insight into the magnitude of what happened. I hope the fires stay away from your sister. Thanks for sharing this.

    Frogdancer said...

    I posted today about how I asked the staff at my school to give clothes and shoes to my friend and her son who have lost everything in the fires at Traralgon.
    I got to work today and I have 20 bags (and a couple of suitcases) full of things to give her. People are so lovely, and we all just want to help.
    I was planning to post them to her, but instead I guess the boys and I will be driving up there this weekend (assuming the fires don't come back.)

    Kirsty said...

    Just like Hoppo Bumpo...I can't even imagine the fear. It's so awful.

    Violet & Rose said...

    Living in the outer eastern suburbs, we have a lot of friends who have a lot of family in these areas, particularly Kinglake.

    A friend's sister and her family escaped from their house and hid in their dam while the fire went over. When, after about an hour or so, they returned back up to their house (a miracle! It survived), they found it full of people who had come in off the road to shelter. Apparantly close to 20 people. One poor soul who had been dragged inside alive had since passed away .....

    My husbands aunt has lost her home at Glenburn.

    My aunt and uncle in Gippsland have lost an entire crop of grapes simply from the radiant heat of the fires and the damage to them from soot and ash.

    My uncle's daughter has lost her herd of prize winning cattle in Kilmore.

    In the scheme of things, these losses are so insignificant. They all have their lives. So, so many don't.

    I am struggling to comprehend the enormity of it all.

    Cathy said...

    Well said. I live in the area as well (luckily far enough away from the fires), but close enough to know some of the victims and the impact to our community is huge. Our friend's 7 year old has lost his best mate at school - they are too young to understand the finality of this, they aren't coping well. The stories they are telling us is that it was too quick, just like what you have mentioned, and the stories that they are recounting about the families found huddled together are horrific and the bodies just fell where they were running. Just horrible. sorry, I am rambling on ....

    BabelBabe said...

    So so sorry. Have been following the fires to make sure all my Aussie blogger friends are safe, and have been heartbroken and sick over the tragedy. pls know that people all over the world are thinking of you.

    Hyena In Petticoats said...

    Absolutely horrifying.

    I feel very far away from home right now, being a Victorian girl living interstate - watching a part of the world I love very dearly burn to the ground on the news.

    I hope you and your family stay safe, and that your community can pull through this awful, awful time.

    Sending love your way,

    Leah xxx

    Blue Mountains Mary said...

    Thank you so much for sharing this and the REAL descriptions of what it was like (unlike media beatup).

    I did see one fellow last night interviewed who said 1983 was a barbeque compared to the weekend's tragedy.

    That together with your "tsunami of a fire" imprints on our minds how absolutely unprecedented these fires were and are.

    M said...

    The tsunami of fire and the fire-rating of 400 really give a much better picture of the hopelessness of this situation. I just can't handle the images of frightened children at home alone. So devastating. So sickening.

    Anyone who has been to places like Marysville or Kinglake know how hard it would be to escape a much smaller fire, let alone a firestorm.

    Katrina said...

    I too, am so shocked by this. I want to cry hysterically every time I think too hard about it- especially having little kids, how must the mums and dads have felt, trying to shelter them? My friend's family lost their farm, but more tragically, their neighbours too. I hope you don't mind me mentioning it here but I have started a "Craft Relief", donating "handmade with love" items directly to those now so desperately in need. Please pop over if you're interested in helping out. Thanks.

    Sherrin said...

    Wow. It's hard to imagine this really happened. I saw the smoke, and I've been listening to 774 continually as well. But your post puts some humanity to it, rather than the camera in the face coverage we have been getting on the telly. ((hugs)) to you and yours.

    willywagtail said...

    Thankyou for sharing these thoughts. I hope th people in these areas keep remembering that there was nothing they could have done otherwise the will live with bitterness all their lives and they don't deserve that. Cherrie

    janet said...

    Oh god, it feels like one of those terrible, extreme disaster movies. Except it isn't. It's bigger AND it's real. Affecting people close to us or people not far removed (as in friends of friends). I'm still shocked. And afraid.

    Thank you for sharing your sisters's story. xoxj

    Megan: The Byron Life said...

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I don't know what else to say really. It's just too awful.

    M+B said...

    Thanks for sharing. I cannot even begin to imagine what these people have been through, the thought completely overwhelms me with grief and despair, especially when thinking about the children.

    How does someone come through this?

    piecemealquilts said...

    I'm halfway around the world, and while I've been aware of the fires and devastation, it was an abstract thing. It isn't anymore. Any words of encouragement or sympathy seem trite, but I sincerely wish health, hope, and peace to the people affected by these terrible fires.

    In transit said...

    Thanks for your post.
    It is all just so hard to believe. The enormity of it all is just starting to sink in. Possibly the worst part is that it's not yet over.

    Helen said...

    Each day I wake up thinking I'll be ok today, I wont cry ..just before I dissolve into tears once again. I’m over the boarder and feel so useless, I want to help, to do something. Giving money seems inadequate and yet there isn’t much more I can do at this point other than express my sorrow and my deepest, heartfelt condolences.

    jacquie said...

    thank you for sharing. it's hard to understand when all we get are a few pictures and snippets here in the US. i do hope the help we are sending in the form of the bushfire project and money to the red cross will send some comfort. our thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Christie said...

    I can't turn the TV on anymore...

    I spent saturady listening to the radio & on the internet trying to work out how close the fire was to my aunt & uncle's farm

    In the end they saved their house, but now they have nothing to feed their cattle, the paddocks are black. By Sunday, I was just glad that they (& my cousins) were ok, so many other people were not.

    The images that I saw from their farm were out of this world, & if it wasn't for the fact that power lines boarder their property (which the CFA were water bombing) there house would probably be gone...

    Never been so happy to live where I do, & yet so guilty for everything being so normal.

    I hope that your friends will be ok. x

    Lin said...

    Being up here in Queensland, we're so far away from what is happening and it's so hard to imagine such terror, but we're SO overwhelmed with grief for all those affected. This is so tragic. My heart aches for everyone.

    e. said...

    It's so true. There was no time. No warning. We left our place in Glenburn when we could see the Murrindindi fire in the hills from the back porch. We listened to the radio, we were glued to the maps. We drove right between Kinglake and Toolangi with absolutely NO IDEA that the Kilmore fire was in Kinglake. We could see smoke, but it all looked like it was on the other side of the hills. We stopped in Yarra Glen, listened to the updates, and decided to keep going to Eltham. Again, we drove through Christmas Hills oblivious to the devastation going on around us.
    It was only a couple of days ago I checked the times on the messages I'd been sending to my mum as we drove. We were right in it. And we had no idea.
    Those people died through no fault of their own. I thank my lucky stars we made it out.
    (By some miracle, it seems the house is ok too. But the roads are still closed, so I won't believe it until we can get back in there and see it for ourselves.)

    Prue said...

    Thanks for such a vivid description. I used to be in the Rural Fire Service, and can attest that fires can travel a lot faster than you could ever expect, and not only that, the radiant heat travels in front of the fire and dries everything so quickly that it catches fire too. Hearing it all on the news I never even doubted that these people who died were wasting time - the fire was just travelling too quickly.

    peppermintpatcher said...

    Sometimes I go to the shop and leave my kids here...

    It is just too horrible to contemplate. My heart aches more with every story.

    Claire (ethel loves fred) said...

    So close to home for you.

    Thanks for sharing these stories, they are worth sharing and remembering.

    •´.¸¸.•¨¯`♥.Trish.♥´¯¨•.¸¸.´• said...

    It’s all so incomprehensible !

    Thank you for sharing this very personal account.It must have been so hard emotionally.
    You & your friends are in my thoughts as are so many others I don’t know.

    I was moved to tears , again.The tragic story about the 15yr brings it close to home for me - because my son is 15yr and often at home alone now he refuses to come out with us.

    My float said...

    An amazing post.

    This disaster will be in the minds and hearts of Australians forever. In my lifetime, I've never known anything this bad in this nation of ours.

    I'm also horrified by the media treatment of this - your sister's email strikes at the very heart of what this is all about. The pointing of fingers in the midst of such emotion is ridiculous.

    (And I have to say - what the heck was the visit by the cricketers all about? "I know your family has died but hey, here's Ricky Ponting." I know, I'm being faecetious but it annoyed me.)

    May everyone keep safe and well. xxxx

    Maxine said...

    Your post moved me to tears. Here in the UK, bush fires are something that we'll never (thankfully) experience but it has been headline news here for days and the stories people are telling are just heartbreaking. My thoughts are with you. Stay safe.X

    Larissa Q said...

    I've been praying for the whole situation since I first heard of it Saturday night. I hope and pray that your weather holds. We are in WA and are having warmish weather, which isn't as hot as it was forecast, so hopefully in 2 or 3 days it won't heat up as much as it is supposed to.
    God Bless you all.

    Daisy May said...

    This post has kept me awake. My 15 and 13.5 yr olds were at home alone on Sat, but hey we're ok cause we live in the relative safety of the 'burbs'. My heart is breaking for that Mum. bloody hell how will she get through it. Words are so inadequete. Thanks for painting such a vivid picture for a city girl like me who just doesn't get it. How absolutely terrifying. Incomprehensible.

    Duyvken said...

    We're hearing so much now about how intense the fire was and how quickly it moved I think the media have started to move away from 'blaming' people for not leaving early enough. How dare we make such assumptions.

    lyrebird said...

    thank you for your blog. we have no tv so to hear it in your words paints a clearer picture for us all. the generosity of our fellow australians is inspiring. perhaps we should harass the phone companies to waive mobile phone bills at this time for victims of the fires. the phones will be used more than ever and to stay in touch with friends and family is more important now, no doubt.

    kirsten said...

    thank you for this poignant reminder about the REALITY of this horror.
    no time, no chance.
    too quick, too fast.
    these poor people. i cannot begin to imagine how anyone can 'get over' it or remotely even attempt to understand the terror and tragedy that ensued. and the kids...
    i cry every time i think of the kids, the parents of kids wanting to protect their babies...
    thoughts and prayers with all involved.
    [and thank you for sharing such personal stories - it speaks volumes]

    Alby Mangroves said...

    UN-believable. I can't imagine a worse horror than losing my babies. What these people have had to endure is beyond comprehension. Apparently some looters were caught, which made me smile. The cop explained that they were apprehended by a couple of farmers, and that by the time the cops got there, the looters were not in the best shape..

    nutmeg said...

    I feel I have just read more truth here in this one post about the situation than I have gotten from all the florid/OTT reporting coming from the commercial networks now. Thank you H&B - this account was so immediate. My heart goes out to all those affected .. so very sad.

    Michelle said...

    Wow!!!! I have a freiend in Kinglake and she and her partner lost their houses as well. They fled in his Mustang on an empty tank...have heard from her and heard her some of her story and it is incredible. My heart goes out to all involved from the people who are directly involved with the fires from the people who lost so much to the CFA and all the other services as well... they have seen and been involved in more than anybody ever should be.

    Michelle

    zoesquid said...

    Thankyou for your insight
    It puts it all it to perspective.
    Blessings to you and your family.

    Damselfly said...

    That all sounds really horrible. I didn't hear about the fires until about a week ago. I hope everything will be OK for your family and the survivors.

    Anonymous said...

    Every time I read something about the destruction caused by the fires, I cry again. The practical and literal descriptions from your sister provide such a vivid picture. Whether you survived or not was not something in the hands of the CFA or and individuals who lsot so much. I don't want to go home and see my scorched state, but I will in a few weeks. I saw Canberra after the fires there. I think it will pale in comparision to Victoria. Watershedd.

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