Sunday, 8 February 2009

Black day

I should eat my words. Things do happen in Australia after all.

Like most people I know, I'm actually rather devastated. Firstly, that ridiculous little mullet-haired ratbags with their waistbands around their knees thought it would be a laugh to play with matches in a region where there have been scorching days and nights for the past week or two. Then, because I spent many a happy summer at the holiday house of friends' in Marysville, a little town a couple of hours' drive from Melbourne. Marysville is no longer. And without a doubt, my friend's holiday house will have most likely been reduced to ashes in the inferno.

Sadder still, though, is the loss of life. At the last count there were about 96 casualties.

For anyone living in the country in Australia, or even on the outskirts of big cities, the threat of bushfires is an annual scourge. Most people pack up their photos and other prized possessions and either leave them in the car, ready for a quick getaway, or with friends, fully anticipating a bushfire to strike sometime during the season. And as a journalist, every year you brace yourself for the inevitable onslaught of "the state is a tinderbox" type stories. After a while you begin to get a bit mercenary about it: "Five hectares burnt? Pah! Not worth a story!"

This, however, is a whole new league. The last time there was something on this scale was Ash Wednesday, in 1983. I remember being in school and having to hold a minutes' silence.

It's all just horribly sad. Clearly, no matter how well-prepared you might be, it's no match for the combination of high winds, searing dry heat and little pyromaniacal shitbags.

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