It’s Sunday in Melbourne, normally mild Melbourne. But not today, not mild at all for this summer in fact.
We were told in spring last year that we were in for a hot summer. Many didn’t believe the forecaster as summer came and with it, cool temperatures. That’s Melbourne. Cool and unpredictable in its weather.
A month into the summer season and the heat has come with a vengeance. Record temperatures of above 40°C (104°F) have been recorded on consecutive days. This morning, we reached 40°C before midday and 32°C (90°F) at 3 a.m.. That’s extreme heat for Melbourne and Victoria where bush, forests and native vegetations are dry and brittle. Fire kindling waiting to be lit.
Fires everywhere are burning out of control. Intense and fast moving, fires bursting out of paddocks as explosions erupt with sudden, gusty winds. Especially so when the winds change from hot northerlies to cooler southerlies, changes that feed fires to rupture into unpredictable behaviour, to rage out of control in new directions and cause even more havoc.
Sirens sound all around me today, sirens of fire trucks whizzing by to help comrades fight fires in other areas and sirens of ‘watch and act’ alerts on radio that flash warnings to give updates of the fire emergencies occurring across the state – details of what fires are where, how intense the fires are, road closures and which areas are under threat. In these threatened areas, emergency procedures are outlined in detail.
People are being asked to enact their fire plans or leave their area and homes for safety and refuge if they’re under threat and if they aren’t able to leave, if the fires are preventing them from leaving, they’re asked to head for relief shelters that have been set up in towns.
Regional trains are suspended and replaced coaches are unable to get through or across roads and highways due to burning fires jumping them. We wait in torment to hear where Mother Nature is taking us next.
Today, seventy fires in total burn across Victoria. It’s our biggest fire risk day in five years, since February 2009 when Victoria had the worst bushfires in Australia’s recorded history. Black Saturday as the day came to be known, claimed 173 human lives and destroyed 2029 homes.
Stories from then are still raw for many, of families running from fires, of driving through flames to escape for survival. Stories of bodies being discovered in homes as families huddled for shelter. Back then, fires raged and escaping their ferocity was difficult. Sometimes, it was too late to leave.
I hope we survive the day and coming days without loss of lives.