Monday, February 9, 2009

Fires rage through Victoria

This morning I woke to the tragic news that over 100 people are now confirmed to have died from bushfires in my home state of Victoria, Australia.  Unfortunately it would appear that the worst news is still yet to come as authorities have only recently been able to get back into the worst effected areas to begin the grizzly task of sifting through the destruction.  So far, over 750 homes have been destroyed with countless loss to property and possessions.
The eyewitness stories that have filtered through all tell a similar tale of personal loss and tragedy, but the common thread that seems to run through all reports is the shear ferocity and speed that the fire raged. For some it was only a matter of 10 - 15 minutes between realizing the fire was heading their way until their homes were totally engulfed.  As a consequence, so many were caught in a panic and confusion trying to escape at the last minute.
One picture which probably hit home the most for me was of the burnt out shells of 5 vehicles that had collided on one of the roads in the path of the fire.  The panic and fear that the occupants of those vehicles must have experienced in their last moments alive must have been horrific. For a moment, as they tried to escape the devastation of the approaching fires, they must have felt optimistic about being able to outrun the flames and flee to safety.  But with thick clouds of black smoke obscuring visibility, it was a near certainty that an accident would occur as so many other people caught in the mayhem struggled to leave at the same time.  
It seems so obvious that panic is the last thing that one wants to find themself in at a time when clear thinking is so vital, but when planning their escape route, drivers would have thought about the roads they were travelling on and imagined them just as they had always seen them - infrequently travelled with plenty of capacity. But as people rushed to leave the scene everything changed. Roads became blocked, visibility obscured and people died. My thoughts and prayers are with all those suffering under this shocking event.

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