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Cheers - AE

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Black Saturday

A few days ago I had a pop about the British press over egging the heatwave, and mentioned that it might yet get worse. Well, although the heatwave didn't happen again we did get one day of really high temperatures, coupled with just the right wind and tinder dry vegetation to feed any fire that happens to start. The result might be as high as 200 dead according to some estimates, people still missing and all, and officially stands at over 130 - double that of the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983.

There's an element of "holy fuck" every time I watch the news. I know enough about bush fires in Australia, that many of the trees and plants here are either full of flammable oils or produce lots of dead tinder to fuel the flames and have evolved to need the occasional fire, to have expected that sooner or later there'd be a bad bush fire disaster while we were here. And I expected to feel 'holy fuck" when it eventually happened. I wasn't quite prepared for the whole state if not the country to go "holy fuck", but it really is that bad. The Country Fire Authority do their very best and every year they gear up for the fire season by bringing bloody great water bombing helicopters in from the US, but fuck me they'd have needed thousands and thousands of the things last weekend. Actually they still do since not all the fires are under control right now - twenty are listed as "going", i.e. yet to be contained or brought under control, and over a quarter of a million hectares has gone up in smoke taking many lives and a lot of personal property with it. Yes, a lot of state forest and national park land as well, but as said nature here loves a good blaze and in cases has evolved to need it. The land will certainly recover, even though right now it's hard not to look at the pictures and go "holy fuck".

But my biggest "holy fuck" is reserved for those headcases who actually start fires. Several of the fires here in Victoria, including the biggie in Churchill and possibly that fucking monster in Murrindindi/Kinglake, are believed to have been lit. What the fuck kind of person does that? And what the fuck to do with them if they're caught. Personally I'd be delighted if natural justice somehow managed to see that these pricks were all burned alive by their own fires which were miraculously put out by a change in conditions immediately afterwards, but somehow I don't think we're going to be that lucky. A lot of people would favour the police tossing any fire starters they find into the inferno or nailing them to a tree ahead of the flame front. Suffice to say they're not exactly universally loved and aren't getting much sympathy. But looking at it a bit more dispassionately I think the question is whether these firebugs are mad or bad. If mad then it's a sickness and I do actually have some sympathy, though I'd have to be pretty convinced. If bad then my sympathy lies with those who want to nail them to a tree ahead of the flames - it can't happen in any society that wants to be considered civilized, but I fully understand the desire. Either way they've got to go away for a very long time, no doubt in my mind about that. Not for society's need for a bit of payback and/or punishment, nor for rehabilitation. If any or all of that happens, fantastic, but I'm thinking of the most practical of reasons. Try starting a big bush fire from a prison cell. If they're out this time next year they'll be lighting fires, and the year after and the year after. Now we can't just round up anyone with a vague history of pyromania and chuck the key away and I'm certainly not suggesting it, but for a change I am bang alongside the various politicians and political appointees including state premiers, police chiefs and Kevin Rudd when they say that anyone caught and convicted should be looking at 25 to life. Frankly it might be the soft option compared to being caught by a few hundred recently homeless families.
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