Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bushfires: Victoria, Australia

The Australian bush is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The grandeur of gum and wattle trees contrasts with the dry, brown grasses in the summer. But this beauty belies its dark side. Grass fires spread fast and far. Most of the plants and trees are rich in volatile oils that protect them against dry conditions but fuel fierce bushfires when the conditions are right. And the conditions were right. Temperatures reached as high as 117 F and the winds reached 60 mph. Perfect conditions to fan fires that move at breakneck speed. Fires erupted throughout Victoria and firefighters, many of whom are volunteers, are currently battling 31 fires. Fires jump containment lines. Firefighters can only get out of the way and retreat to another place to fight again.

The toll so far: 108 people dead and at least 78 people hospitali
zed – many in critical condition. Hospitals have run out of morphine to treat burn victims. More than 3700 people have registered with the Red Cross. These numbers may be conservative estimates.

The destruction is extensive. In some areas, towns have been completely or almost completely destroyed. The images of the fires and destruction are overwhelming.

More than 750 homes have been destroyed. In addition to homes, farmers have lost dairies, sheds, equipment, livestock and feed. Where livestock survived, they are left with little or no feed and will have to be sold or moved to other properties in areas not affected by the fires.

Stories of
firefighters who lost loved ones while they were fighting the fires, loved ones lost when they unable to flee or trying to save animals, loved ones lost when trying to flee but being trapped in their cars in the flames. These fires are merciless. The extent of the tragedy is only beginning to emerge.

Photo collections:

- Gippsland fires
- Victoria’s Killer Fires
- Reader’s Photos
- Volunteer Firefighter’s Photos
- Day of Mourning
- Aussie Spirit
- Victoria Still Burning: Fires at Upwey, Warburton and Daylesford
- ABC News: Bushfire Emergency
- ABC News: User-submitted Photos


Fatalities: 173

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