This week has been a tough one for country & regional Victoria. Bushfires (Wildfires for you US folk) have devastated the state, indiscriminantly destroying land, life and hope in their path. They are still raging albeit amongst mild weather, with the official death toll halted until formal identification of the bodies can be carried out by specialist teams being bought in from Interstate and as far afield as Indonesia and the USA. Throughout this suffering, the political recriminations and finger pointing are starting to emerge, with Germaine Greer passing comment overnight in London.
Superlatives abound – number of lives lost: 181+, intensity of the heat which was the prelude: Melbourne 7/2/09 46.8 degrees Celsius/118 degrees Fahrenheit and the sheer volume of goodwill by way of donations from corporate australia and the general public exceeding $60 million AUD to date.
However, at the core of this tragedy with loved ones lost and the memories of what was possible, the valiant courage and tireless efforts of those people in our community who appoint themselves to join the CFA: Country Fire Authority rate a special mention.
A particularly poignant & concise tribute of the CFA’s actions and as reported in today’s The Age.
A tribute to our firefighting men and women – David Marr
February 13, 2009 – 12:04PM
THEY don’t know how long they’ll be around.
They’re not clear where they’ll be tomorrow.
They’ve put other lives on hold.
They’re here to work.
Ask them why they do this and they say it’s what you do if you live in the bush.
Long lines of fire trucks bring them down from the hills at the end of each shift to the staging area in Whittlesea.
Like regiments in a small war, the trucks carry the names of the communities that have turned out to help: Talbot, Riddells Creek, Kalkallo 2, Hastings, Woodend, Newstead, Wendouree.
The firefighters’ gear is a complete disguise. Is this a lawyer, a nurse or a plumber in yellow clobber?
Right now it doesn’t matter a damn.
This is a bunch of dirty, tired, cheerful and hungry people taking a break from the horrors up in the hills.
They’re very hungry.
The time between getting off the trucks and into a steak is short.
Here’s a sign of the times.
Not only in Whittlesea but up at Yea, there are expresso machines and volunteer baristas.
Before setting out for the fires or after a hard day backburning in the hills, a “firey’’ can know a good flat white is at hand.
And it’s free. Of course, it’s all free.
The mood is subdued.
They smoke and talk quietly.
The television is blaring.
The firefighters need the news.
Those in the thick of it are the last to know what’s happening.
They aren’t in a rush to leave.
After a few hours sleep they’ll be going out again and this will continue until the fires are no danger.
That moment isn’t in sight.