Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bushfires in Australia

In the south-eastern state of Victoria, bushfires have just taken the lives of 65 people and destroyed hundreds of houses and countless thousands of hectares of vegetation.

I've just listened to an amazing radio report from an on-the-spot journalist. He describes the plight of members of a rural family who were awoken in the early hours of the morning by a phone call from a neighbor, informing them that a fire was approaching their property. They immediately darted down to a creek, accompanied by their dogs, and jumped in. Their heads, above water, were protected by wet blankets, while the fire charged over them.

On Saturday, the temperature in Melbourne had risen to over 46 degrees Celsius. In Sydney, it's a few degrees less. In that kind of heat, without air conditioning (which wasn't widespread in Australia when I was a young man), it becomes almost impossible to lead a normal working existence. [In my university office in Perth, in 1986, I remember aiming an electric fan at my Macintosh computer, to cool it down.] The other ingredients in a recipe for disaster are oil-saturated eucalyptus trees in residential yards, high winds and crazy arsonists.

Yesterday, a mindless Sydney newspaper (which shall go unnamed in my blog, as they've been operating on a shoestring budget since the boss kicked out their top journalists) dared to print a nice beach photo alongside a silly story about people flocking to the ocean to combat the heat, as if this were a solution. Sadly, the sunny outdoor Australian lifestyle is no guarantee against the devastation of heat and fire.

BREAKING NEWS: The murderous fires in Australia are the top item on TV news in France. The death count could be higher than 100. This extraordinary photo of a retreating firetruck was taken near Pakenham, east of Melbourne:

There's an obvious question in the minds of everybody: Is it thinkable that the extreme climatic conditions being experienced at present in Australia (drought, heat and bushfires, with floods in Queensland) might be advance signs of the consequences of global warming?

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