The October bushfires throughout New South Wales have been deemed the worst for at least fifty years, at least since the late 60s. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, but the loss of life was minimal. The question is, "Why was this so different from past experiences?"
Then in late January near Perth 44 homes were lost in bush fires. This is repeated year after year across the nation in this parched dry brown land of ours.
Volunteer bush fire personnel and those whose homes are in the face of such bush fires have a common experience - the sound of a bush fire rushing towards them with high winds – there has become an awareness that the authorities know when it's time to get out. Mid February Victorian fires have shown minute by minute public announcements when to get out. Indeed they could be worse.
Historically, these fire storms that result in severe loss of life are often named based on the day on which they occur, such as Ash Wednesday and Black Sunday. Some of the most intense, extensive and deadly bushfires commonly occur during droughts and heat waves, such as the 2009 Southern Australia heat wave, which precipitated the conditions during the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in which 173 people lost their lives.
We are all aware that the common causes of bushfires include lightning, arching from overhead power lines, arson, accidental ignition from agricultural clearing, grinding and welding, campfires, cigarettes and dropped matches, machinery and controlled burn escapes.
In 2009, a standardised Fire Danger Rating (FDR) was adopted by all Australian states. During the fire season the Bureau of Meteorology provides fire weather forecasts and by considering the predicted weather including temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and dryness of vegetation, fire agencies determine the appropriate Fire Danger Rating.
In 2010, following a national review of the bush fire danger ratings, new trigger points for each rating were introduced for grassland areas in most jurisdictions.
The ratings are
Catastrophic / Code Red
Low to moderate
Bushfires have accounted for over 800 deaths in Australia since 1851 and although bushfires can occur at any time of year, the most likely months are between October and March. Controlled burns have become a fundamental ingredient to bush fire protection.
The October bushfires illustrated how effective all this has been as although the huge fire storms destroyed so much property, the alerts along with the authorities and the acquiescence of local populations adhered to calls for evacuations.
We saw once again on television newscasts the aftermath of these houses devastated by these October bushfires. Moreover the all too common bewilderment of a bush fire destroying house after house and somehow leaving other houses untouched. Entire communities are sometimes sent into despair, in 2009 Marysville in Victoria was one such town. Utter destruction was the scene.
What is a home?
The real question associated with bushfires is - what is a home? When a house is destroyed by bush fire - what has been lost to the dwellers, the residents, the home owners.
The Bush Fire Chaplains have years of experience as to what is lost:
A living home
Family treasures such as photographs
A place where the family return
The sounds of footsteps
Comforting awareness of rooms
The homeliness of the clothes line
Making a cuppa
A favourite lounge chair
Decisions as to the future
Most of these things are intangible. The loss of the soothing and comforting experience of making a cuppa early in the morning, looking out through the kitchen window, is something that dollars and cents cannot fathom. The never ending daily walk to the washing line, when taken away, becomes an emotional insurmountable loss. Family heir looms and precious family photographs have untold sacred value.
Yet, in spite of all this, for many from those October fires, it has been a means to a fresh start, and a realisation that our possessions have only a little consequence compared to the welfare of our precious loved ones.
Life itself is such a gift from the Lord, that the joy of hugging someone of whom we love who escaped from such a fate, is beyond words. Nonetheless, it may take years to bring adjustment to such emotional loss of a home.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html