South Australia is in the grips of a nasty bushfire. There have been two deaths. Untold numbers of livestock have died. Loss of wildlife is yet to be determined. Loss of properties is devastating. Many farmers have lost everything. It is hard to imagine what it must be like to be caught in the midst of such horror. The fire has spread across a front of over 40 kilometres, destroying over 100,000 hectares of land. In the first four hours the fire travelled 50 kilometres. Now, just over 24 hours later, the fire remains uncontained albeit it has not spread any further. This fire is ravaging populated areas close to Adelaide.
Bushfires in Australia are a frequent occurrence. The first recorded bushfire I have come across in my research was the Black Thursday bushfire in Victoria in 1851. 5 million hectares of land was destroyed. One million sheep and thousands of head of cattle perished. Those numbers are just mind boggling.
Bushfires can be caused by many things. For hundreds of years the indigenous tribes used fire methodically as a means of managing their environment. They knew fires rejuvenate vegetation. Fires can be started by lightning strikes. They can also be the result of human error. A carelessly tossed out burning cigarette butt, or as is the case here recently, a back-burn that went horribly wrong. Or it can be deliberately lit. It is difficult for me to comprehend the mindset of someone who does that. The cause for this fire has yet to be determined.
Ash Wednesday in 1983 was my first real exposure to the fury and horror of bushfires. It was here in the outskirts of Adelaide. 75 people died. We went for a drive around the area a few months after. It was sobering. A stark reminder of our vulnerability. And of just how close it had come.
November 2009 went down on record as a heat wave that broke all existing records.
In Adelaide we had –
- 10 Consecutive days over 30 °C (86 °F)
- 8 Consecutive days over 35 °C (95 °F) – New record set on 12 November 2009 and broken again on 13 November after breaking the previous 4 consecutive days over 35 °C (95 °F) record which was set in 1894.
- 6 Consecutive days over 38 °C (100 °F) – New record set after breaking the previous 3 consecutive days over 38 °C (100 °F) record which was set in 1888, 1922 and 1984.
- Average daily maximum 1 November – 20 November: 34.0 °C (93.2 °F)
- Average daily maximum 8 – 15 November: 38.6 °C (101.5 °F)
- Highest November temperature ever recorded – 0 °C (109.4 °F)19 November 2009 at 4:32pm ACDT. Previous record was 42.0 °C (107.6 °F) recorded on 13 November 1993.
I am not – and never have been – a hot weather lover. It was horrid.
For some reason Victoria seems to be the state that has the deadliest and largest bushfires in Australia. I can recall flying over Victoria at night. Everywhere I looked I saw pockets of fire. That was in 2009. The Black Saturday fires killed 173 people, destroyed 2,000 homes and structures, gutted towns. Marysville was totally destroyed. Below is a map of the fire warnings at the time.
South Australia is the fourth largest of the states and territories. The total land area measures 983,482 square kilometres. In comparison Victoria measures 227,416 square kilometres. Which is kind of interesting when Victoria seems to cop the deadliest bushfires. SA is the driest state in the country.
2 – 9 January 2015 more than 12,500 hectares of land was destroyed in the Sampson Flat fires here in South Australia. The fire burnt uncontrolled for seven days. Twenty seven homes were destroyed. As it was mainly bushland, the loss of wildlife was devastating. As opposed to the current fire this one was largely inaccessible for any kind of intervention. Many Adelaide roads leading into the area were closed to access and nearby residents were evacuated. As they have been this time too. It is a given part of managing the risks.
An urgent call went out for donations of mittens to treat injured, burnt paws. I emptied my cupboards of all suitable items, including old tea towels and cotton clothing softened through wash and wear. Using the pattern provided on social media, I cut hundreds of mittens for sewing by friends with machines. Media reported boxes of mittens being sent from all over the world. They were inundated with more than was needed. Enough to put in storage for future use. Perhaps now. Then another urgent request was broadcast. This time for kangaroo pouches.
The Australian bush is very resilient. Recovery and restoration of burnt areas can occur completely within a decade. New growth in fire devastated areas dots the sombre black with patches of lush new growth. It looks quite surreal. Some seeds need fire to germinate. For nature bushfires serve a purpose.
Human stories of courage, bravery, loss and resilience are beginning to emerge now even as the fire continues to burn. Acts of support and generosity are easing the burden for those who have lost everything. Communities and towns will recover. Bushfires are a part of life here in Australia.
© Raili Tanska
Images Pixabay, FaceBook