Monday, February 9, 2009


Australia's southeast just had its worst day of bushfires on record, reporting 96 dead and hundreds of homes lost. My sister and her family live right in the middle of the affected area. They stayed with their home after spending days "preparing for World War Three," as my sister put it. Their home is mudbrick, not wood, and is surrounded by grassland, not trees. And they had a brick shed to retreat to if a grassfire (lit by burning embers) came through. As of today, the fire has moved through and doesn't seem to have hit their township.

All this reminded me of Ash Wednesday - Australia's previous worst bushfire disaster in 1983. Our family had just immigrated to Australia a couple of years before. My grandfather in England heard of the terrible fires on the news and called us to see if we were okay. We lived in the suburbs and could smell the smoke in the air, but were never in danger.

I was amazed he would think otherwise, but he had only the news reports to go by. He had no sense of the size of our city, the suburbs, or the proximity of the bushfires beyond that zone. It's hard to get a sense of scale when you're looking from the outside with limited information.

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