Of droughts and flooding rains

I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of rugged mountain ranges
Of droughts and flooding rains

I love her far horizons
I love her jewelled seas
The beauty and the terror
The wide brown land for me

My Country” Dorothea Mackellar (1885-1968)

Australia is certainly a land of extremes and this past week or so has brought tragedy to families in the north and south of the country. Over 130 people have died in fires that are raging in the state of Victoria and 60% of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone due to flooding.

States such as South Australia (where I am) have been largely spared of bushfires this year. We have been incredibly lucky and the efforts of the volunteers who make up Country Fire Service (CFS) have certainly played a role in keeping us safe.

The forest fire danger index for the Adelaide Hills on Saturday was 111, compared to 50 for the conditions that presented during the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983. The stage was certainly set for another disaster. In Victoria, the forest fire danger index reached an incredible 500 in some places.

I’ve often thought I would stay and defend my property if fire should threaten it, but after reading some of the stories of survivors of the current fires, I am thinking twice. Ms. Mackellar’s mention of “terror” in her poem is quite apt.

The human tragedy can never be minimized and never should; but it’s not just humans who have been affected. Plants and wildlife already under pressure from years of drought and the encroachment of humans have been placed under great strain. Domestic animals were also severely affected – I read a story about a farmer who watched his cattle burn; there was nothing he could do.

Fire has been part of the natural cycle of Australia’s bush for thousands of years; in fact some of our plants depend on fire for reproduction, but the intensity of these blazes totally destroys much that is in their path – things that will never come back or may take many generations to.

In addition, the amount of heat, carbon dioxide and particulate matter thrown into the atmosphere by the fires must be astronomical. This on top of an atmosphere already sodden with the effects of our activity.

Whether climate change played a role in these disasters will be argued by many on both sides of the global warming fence. But even if it didn’t, nature has given us another warning about what an Australia of the future may look like. More of these sorts of events, more extreme, more often. There has been a human link proven already though – arson in some cases. I totally agree with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s feelings that arsonists are just mass murderers.

Regardless of the debate, it won’t bring back the people that were lost, nor the homes destroyed. These people need our help. If you can spare a few bucks, you can make a donation via the RedCross, SalvationArmy or BendigoBank.

Early estimates are that at least a million native animals died. The toll of pets and livestock still isn’t known. Wildlife and animal rescue organizations are only just starting to gain access to affected areas and their services are stretched. To assist with relief efforts for animals, donations can be made to RSPCA Victoria and Wildlife Victoria.

As mentioned, the CFS (or the equivalent in each state, in Victoria it’s the CFA) makes a tremendous contribution to the safety of our people, our bush and our domestic/native animals – often they are forgotten until disaster strikes again. There’s many stories of the guys and gals of the CFS working to save a neighbour’s property while theirs burns. They also deserve our financial support.

Summer is not over yet and remembering back to last year, we had record-breaking heatwave conditions right into autumn. With temperatures forecast to rise again soon, it’s certainly not a time to get complacent.