Tag Archives: Black-Saturday

Devil in the Wind – Black Saturday

I’m not a poetry person, at least not normally, but I’m sitting here crying as I read this poem by Frank Prem. It’s about the Black Saturday fires that claimed 173 lives here in Victoria. 

I was at home in Warrandyte that day. I’d sent the Offspring away, but I was at home with Dad and the animals because Dad had mild dementia and…I don’t think any of us really believed. I listened to 774 radio all day and some horrific reports were being phoned in, but we had the best roof sprinklers money could buy, and fire-resistant shutters. I was sure we’d be fine. And we didn’t really believe. 

The next day, the reports started coming in and finally, we believed. That’s the background. Here is the poem that’s brought me to tears.

evidence to the commission of enquiry: all in the ark for a while

well

you have to go back

to the chaos of that time

back to february

 

as the day got on

we realised we were in strife

because the thing was bigger and hotter

and faster and more unpredictable

 

it was more everything really

 

and we’d started to get word of huge losses

in other places around and about

people

property

animals

whole towns

 

so we were head-down-and-bum-up

and worried

about what was going to happen next

 

anyway

out of the smoke came a sort of convoy

led by a horse whose halter was held

by a woman driving a ute

 

in the back of the ute

a dog was running around

like a mad thing

 

after that came another car

with a float and two more horses

 

next was a vehicle that a police fellow

was driving

 

he’d been up in a chopper

trying to winch people out

but the wind got too big

so he dropped down and helped

by driving the car

with whoever he could get into it

 

then there were a couple of deer

that jumped out of the bush

when the cavalcade went past a clearing

 

and a pair of koalas

 

and three kangaroos

 

and some lizards

 

all running as part of the convoy

 

they scattered pretty quick

when the procession of them

emerged from the smoke

and the flames

but it was all in together

for a while

 

It was ‘all in together’ for a while after Black Saturday too. We grieved, and donated food, and money, and hay because the animals were starving, and because we were alive and so many were not.

The love has disappeared now, but for a while we had it and I thank Frank Prem for helping me remember. Parts of this post will become my review on Amazon because this is my memory of the devil-wind.

 


Powerline fiasco in Nth Warrandyte

Residents in Nth Warrandyte were without power for 18 hours today. We were without power for 18 hours today, and you’d better believe that we were not amused. But the problem goes deeper than simple inconvenience. The powerlines that keep failing are these  super-dooper new ones:

As you can see from the photo, the new powerlines are much thicker than the old ones. They are also supposed to be much safer than the old ones, and therefore less likely to start bushfires in this highly bushfire-prone area.

Of course, the safest option would be to put all powerlines underground. But that would be expensive, wouldn’t it? So instead we get this half-baked alternative that keeps breaking down.

How do I know the problem is in the new powerlines? I know, because Nth Warrandyte is pretty much the only area in which these new lines have been completed. Nth Warrandyte also happens to be the only area where these long, unexpected, unplanned power outages seem to occur.

Don’t get me wrong – we’ve always had power outages in Nth Warrandyte, for as long as we’ve been here, but never like this. And never accompanied by bangs in the middle of the night. The Offspring saw and heard three explosions last night, just before midnight. Each one briefly lit up the night sky… from the exact area where the problems have been occurring.

The utility company in charge of our powerlines and electricity infrastructure is SPAusnet. This is the same company whose infrastructure may have caused the destruction of homes in Warrandyte in 2014.

The Offspring spoke to the utility today and described the explosions. The response was that ‘it was possums’.

Puleeeeeze. Possums don’t go ‘bang’. And even if it were possums, that would mean that the new, super thick, super ‘safe’ powerlines are even less capable of withstanding the ravages of nature around here. Not exactly reassuring when we’re facing a potentially catastrophic fire season in January/February.

The one bright spot is that the bridge renovations are mostly complete. That gives Nth Warrandyte residents one extra lane across the Yarra River in an emergency. The new Traffic lights are great as well, and both of these measures make living here just that little bit safer. Thanks Daniel Andrews!

Pity SPAusnet can’t get the powerlines right. I wonder how much it’ll cost the company if the new powerlines cause a fire, and they’re hit with a class action suit by all the residents of Nth Warrandyte? I’ll bet that going underground would be seen as ‘cheaper’. Then again, SPAusnet only paid out $648 million dollars in out of court compensation payments after Black Saturday, so perhaps not…

Not happy

Meeks

 


SP Ausnet to Black Saturday to dollars

Around this time last year, I wrote a post about the houses lost to fire here in Warrandyte, and the possible role SP Ausnet had played in those losses.

marysville fire picAt the time, even I felt as if I was doing a bit of conspiracy theorizing. Today, however, I know I was spot on the money because it was just announced on the media that the third, Black Saturday compensation claim against SP Ausnet has been settled out of court. This particular compensation case referred to the township of Marysville [see photo to the left].

Apparently all three Black Saturday compensation cases concerned some kind of equipment failure. The equipment was/is owned by SP Ausnet, and the utilities company has denied all liability. BUT. Counting the three, separate compensation cases, the company has agreed to a total of $648 million dollars in out of court compensation payments.

At some point I expect to hear that the families involved in last year’s Warrandyte fire will also receive hush money from SP Ausnet.

To be honest, I consider that $648 million to be cheap. The survivors whose lives were smashed by the Black Saturday fires will receive approximately 60% compensation for their losses. 60%. Think about that. Where is the compensation for living the rest of your life with nightmares?

And what of the rest of us? If the worst bushfire in Victorian history was caused by equipment failure, and possible negligence, then what hope do we have that the same perfect storm of events will not happen again?

I’m not optimistic. Even people around Warrandyte have become complacent, and that is likely to get worse as the years go by. People forget, perhaps because it’s easier to live out here if you bury your head in the sand.

The only sign of optimism I can see is that the insurance companies that underwrite companies such as SP Ausnet will not be happy. They may demand an investment in safeguards that the victims themselves can never achieve.

I hope so, because with no legal liability recorded against them, SP Ausnet is under no legal obligation to lift its game. Think about that.

Meeks


Battening down the hatches – updated at 10:15pm

I just checked the weather and it’s still 36C [96.8 F]… at 10 o’clock at night. What happened to the cool change we were promised?

I know I sound like a whiny little kid but,  after a day sweltering in 41C [105.8 F ] temperatures, I’m finding it hard to be grateful for a 5 degree drop. I am, however, VERY grateful that we had no fires anywhere near us today.  I am also very grateful to the nice repairman who came out and serviced our air-con yesterday. It is struggling now, after a day of constant work, but it got us through. So thank you Amon and thank you to  whoever invented air-conditioning!

Sleep tight,

Meeks

The weather bureau has predicted a week or so of hot weather, and it seems they may be right. It was stinking hot yesterday – 37C in the city but more out here – and today is meant to be even worse, with 41C temperatures and a hot north wind to fan the flames of any bushfires that do start.

The whole state is on high alert and I’ve been doing my bit. Critical areas of the garden have been watered and now all that’s left is to start up the fire-fighting pumps to make sure they’re working properly, clear the back deck of flammable deck chairs, drop all the fire-resistant shutters and turn on the radio.

Radio, you ask? Why would that be part of any bushfire plan?

Well, it’s not just any radio station I’ll be listening to today. ABC 774 is the official bushfire warning channel and during fire season they broadcast alerts whenever they arrive. This is critical because back during Black Saturday, 774 provided the only real information that any of us had about where the fires were, and where they were headed.

To be honest, the official warnings broadcast by 774 during Black Saturday were pretty useless as the authorities had no real idea of what the fires were doing. Nonetheless 774 was invaluable because of the listeners who rang in and provided anecdotal information about what the fire was doing in their area.

I just wish someone had been listening to, and co-ordinating all this anecdotal information at the time. Perhaps then 173 people might not have died.

I’m still angry about Black Saturday, and I’m still angry about the way Nillumbik Shire Council weaseled its way out of all responsibility for their negligence. I don’t care what anyone believes, be that religion or conservationist policy, but when it comes to lives, the only deciding factor should be facts. Ignoring those facts is criminal.

I don’t want to get into a major rant here, but it’s time we accepted realities, and one of those realities is that Australia is not a gentle place. If humans want to co-exist with native flora and fauna here, we have to accept the dangers and take sensible precautions. The policies still being enforced by most local councils are not… sensible.

I doubt that anything horrible will happen today, but fire season has just begun, and this year Warrandyte [as well as the rest of Victoria] is much dryer than it was at the same time last year. By February the whole state will be a tinderbox again and we could see a repeat of Black Saturday.

If you live in a fire-prone area, and that includes all of Warrandyte,  please, PLEASE get your property as fire-proof as possible. Chest high scrub and dry grass on one property will only make the spread of the fire worse for other properties. So even if your plan is to get out early, do your maintenance first. Not only will it help your own house to survive, it may help your neighbour’s house survive as well.

Last but most definitely not least, my thoughts are with those people who are still living in the areas devastated by Black Saturday. I can only imagine the fear you must feel on days like this. I pray you remain safe.

-hugs-

Meeks


Warrandyte – proposed rezoning lunacy

I have just learned that the state government is proposing to rezone Warrandyte to allow more people to move into this bushfire prone area – without providing any safeguards against the horror that killed 173 men, women and children on Black Saturday.

As a resident of Warrandyte I call this criminal.

Warrandyte is not a nice, safe, inner city suburb where house fires are either accidental or the result of arson. Warrandyte is a fringe suburb that burns. Regularly.  Major burns occurred in :

1851 – February 6 “Black Thursday”
1939 – January 13 “Black Friday”
1962 – January 14–16

Warrandyte also experienced less destructive bushfires in 1965 and 1969. All the old-timers say we are well and truly overdue for another. So what has changed to make Warrandyte a less fire prone area? Nothing. Not a single damned thing. If anything the danger has become more extreme because of the ideological madness of successive governments and local councils doing even less to reduce fuel loads in the area. If you are interested please see previous posts on bushfire preparedness here and here.

To be brutally honest I don’t give a flying fruitbat for the preservation of the Green Wedge in its present form. I am not interested in ideology. I am not interested in preserving anything in a bubble. Change is inevitable and we are not going to preserve our native flora and fauna by trying to turn back the clock to a time before white settlement. Nonetheless on the issue of rezoning I am siding with the conservationists but for very different reasons. I truly believe that increasing population density in Warrandyte is a recipe for disaster… for people.

Whatever your thoughts on conservation I ask that you go to the website below by following this link or by cutting and pasting the url into the address bar of your browser. Once you get there please sign up to make your views heard.

http://www.dpcd.vic.gov.au/planning/theplanningsystem/improving-the-system/new-zones-for-victoria

This forum is our only chance to tell the government exactly what we think without having to go through committees or MPs or other representatives. If enough of us raise our voices then maybe, just maybe someone will listen.


Bushfire season 2011/12 is over

I hope I haven’t jinxed myself but I honestly can’t see how a fire could hit Warrandyte now – the air is crisp and cool, the grass is a vibrant green and you can almost smell autumn in the air…oh wait, that could be alpaca poop.

For those who don’t know, alpacas almost always poop in nice, discrete piles, as if they invented the idea of latrines. This highly civilized way of defecating means that you can walk around outside without having to wear gumboots all the time. Unfortunately it also means that the smell is rather concentrated. There is a pile of poop about 10 metres from my office window so when we have a  north wind blowing I have to seal the office off. Nonetheless I’m  not complaining. How could I when the alpacas have manicured the grass so nicely?

I have about 1/2 an acre out the back and at the moment it is as well cared for as a putting green! Except for the piles of poop of course; they look like small green volcanoes with a black caldera in the middle. The black part is the poop while the green part is the well fertilized grass around the poop. Not surprisingly the alpacas won’t eat the grass that’s too close to their piles. Can’t say I blame them but the green volcanoes do look a little odd.

Alpaca volcanoes aside though I am pleased to say that the alpaca experiment has been a qualified success. They have done a very good job of keeping the grass down directly around the house and their clawed toes are much kinder to the soil than other introduced grazers such as cattle or sheep. The one downside in using them as part of my fire prevention strategy is that they will only eat the native grasses when there is nothing else to munch on. This was partly my fault as I sowed some special alpaca feed* in the flat spots around the house during the last winter of the big drought. These grasses stay green even when the rest of the grass has gone your typical summer brown but with all the rain we’ve had the last couple of years the alpacas have been spoiled for choice and have ignored the brown stuff with disdain. Even so they have kept the area around the house well mowed and that is all I can ask for now. Come winter I am going to try and extend their pasture further downhill. If it doesn’t take because of the steepness of the slope I’ll have to think about putting in a bit more terracing [gah…more work].

So having alpacas is not a magic bullet but they are better than mowing by hand or, as seems to happen a lot in Warrandyte, not mowing at all. I know that everyone is busy and I know that many of the people in Warrandyte are new to the area but removing fuel load is part and parcel of living here. It is NOT an optional extra.

I know it’s not feasible but I’d love to see herds of alpacas wandering along Brogil  creek and keeping us all safe. They might be a bit of a traffic hazard but at least they’d do a better job of reducing the fuel load than Nillumbik Shire.

Yes, I know I’m a grumpy old ratepayer but you’d think that at $656 per quarter our local council could do something a little more practical than  telling us to clear out our gutters. Every time I receive one of their expensive newletters full of hot air and self congratulations I wonder how a shire that let, nay caused so many people to die on Black Saturday can escape all accountability.

-sigh-

I truly do wish that being elected to local council was like being chosen for jury duty – an unpleasant civic responsibility that no-one in their right mind would want to do. Then at least we might get some local government that was truly unbiased, a-political and not driven by ambition or self-interest. Come to think of it that could work at state and federal levels too…

Back to reality. Alpacas are herd animals and need the companionship of two or more of their kind or they get a bit psychotic – much like people in solitary confinement – so having just one is not a good idea. One way around this problem is to join together with your neighbours in owning and caring for them. I am one of a group of three neighbours and our four alpacas keep a total of about 2.5 acres mowed. To make things easier we invested in side gates that link our three properties. We all get on really well and that helps too.

The bottom line though is that Warrandyte is a fire prone area so if you live here then you must find some way of keeping the fuel load down on your own property. The danger may be past for this season but it will return and when the next fire does come through we will all be on our own so it makes sense to do what we can now.

If you don’t believe me do the math : there are three CFA fire stations dotted around Warrandyte, North Warrandyte and Research. As far as I know each of those fire stations has 2 fire trucks. That makes 6 in all yet even if there were twice that many they would not be enough to protect the 7393 people living in Warrandyte [2006 census figure].  So yes, the reality is that when the next bushfire sweeps through Warrandyte we will be on our own so doing things to help ourselves should be as much a part of the culture as enjoying the ‘serenity’ of living among the gum trees.

And with that homage to The Castle,  I’m going to go out amongst my own gum trees to shovel some alpaca poop. At least it makes good compost.

* Note : ordinary lawn seed is NOT good for alpacas as it can make them bloat which is serious!


Bushfires – what does ‘leave early’ mean?

I had a look at the new CFA warning video on the Warrandyte area yesterday. It is entitled ‘Don’t wait and see’ and does a good job of explaining why it would be terribly dangerous to try to leave Warrandyte at the last minute. Unfortunately, telling people what not to do is only half the message; the video then goes on to stress that if residents are not well prepared they should ‘leave early’. This is the same tired old message the authorities have been bleating since before Black Friday. It did not work then and it will not work now.

Why not? Because people do not know what leaving early really means. Or if they do know, they choose to ignore it.

For those who do not know, ‘leave early’ means leaving first thing in the morning of a day of high fire danger. Effectively this means packing up your children, your pets and your most precious possessions and going away for the whole day. On Code Red days [days considered to be as dangerous as Black Saturday] leaving early means leaving the night before if at all possible. Even with the patchy weather we’ve had recently, following this advice could see many families leaving home for at least 15 days over summer.

Where exactly is a mother with small children and pets in tow meant to go on these hot days? To friends and family? I imagine that the welcome would wear rather thin by the end of summer. So the reality is that most people do what they consider to be the sensible thing – they wait to see what happens. This is what happened on Black Saturday – despite the warnings before hand – and this is what will happen again when the next fire sweeps through Warrandyte.

I believe the authorities know full well what the reality is but choose to tip toe around the issue with videos that only tell half the story because making a genuine effort to change the other half is just too hard. They cannot force people to evacuate. They cannot force people to retrofit their homes with toughened glass or fire-resistant shutters or sprinkler systems. They cannot advocate for people to have bunkers installed. They cannot change the topography of Warrandyte and regulations forbid them from changing the vegetation. They cannot even find one, single refuge of last resort anywhere in the Warrandyte area.  All they can do is cover themselves against liability and hope that most people will heed the warnings and leave.

I am normally a glass half full person but when I hear friends and neighbours saying that they plan to leave my heart sinks. They may plan to leave but whether they succeed is another matter.


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