Sunday 8 February 2015
Here in the south west of Western Australia we are currently experiencing bushfires on a massive scale. Hundreds of thousands of hectares have been burned by two fires, the firefronts are hundreds of kilometres in perimeter, and hundreds of fire fighters (many, if not most of whom are volunteers) are fighting the flames. These men and women have fought not only the two massive fires but also the weather, terrain, and exhaustion in order to prevent the fires from razing towns.
These two fires were caused by lightning strikes during summer electrical storms, and as such, there’s no one to ‘take the blame’. After all, how can you blame Mother Nature for doing what she does? And I mention blame because humans seem to need to place blame for loss – it’s what we do, and it seems to be a part of our make up. Some have, however, managed to place a little blame on ‘the government’ for the lack of prescribed or controlled burns, particularly in the Northcliffe region where one fire was expected to burn through the entire town. The fuel in the bush was primed and ready for a fire on a massive scale because some believe that it has been between twenty and fifty years since a controlled burn has been undertaken in the region. You can imagine how much fuel there was in the bush, can’t you?
The Boddington fire happened to impact upon the town in which I live. There was talk around town of evacuation centres being set up, of the need that we might have to get out of town in order to survive the fire, and of being prepared to either fight the fire or leave if the time came. Many people I know prepared themselves to evacuate, their precious belongings, photos, important documents, emergency kits, clothes, kids, and pets all ready to head out of town towards safety. Facebook groups were set up as a quick and easily accessible source of information, posting DFES (Department of Fire and Emergency Services) updates, photos and any information that anyone had regarding the fire and its movement towards the towns. As time drew on, we were put on an alert level of advice, whilst other towns were on an alert level of watch and act, roads were closed, evacuation centres were set up for Boddington, people offered all manner of assistance to those in need, water bombers and helitacs flew constantly overhead, and smoke and ash filled the air.
All through this, fire fighters from across the state were out there, in the face of danger, doing everything that was humanly possible to prevent the flames from taking the towns. They were joined by fire fighters from across Australia, fire fighters who were paying back the assistance that W.A. firies had given during the atrocious Victorian Black Sunday fires, NSW Blue Mountains fires, really any other time that there’s been fires on a massive scale around Australia. Because that’s what they do. When another state is in dire need of fire fighters, each state will do what they can to assist, and in many instances, fire fighters from other countries have joined the fight, flying thousands of kilometres across the world to stand side by side with our firies in their attempts to quell fires.
Today is a worrisome day weather-wise. We’re expecting temperatures of around 40C and higher, winds are expected to pick up, and that of course means that there’s a fair bit that Mother Nature is doing to push the firies to their limits. High temperatures and strong winds are the enemy of the fire fighters in this situation as they serve only to bolster the flames. DFES alerts indicate that we need to be vigilant and prepared in the event that the fire alert levels are upgraded. And again, in the face of these difficult weather conditions, out fire fighters stand and face the flames.
Containment lines have been strengthened, but the fire is uncontrolled and unpredictable. The slightest change in wind or weather can help or hinder the work of these courageous men and women who put their lives on the line in order to protect ours. These men and women, many of whom are volunteers, are real-life heroes. Saying thank you to them simply doesn’t seem enough. They work night and day in treacherous conditions to save property, assets, livestock and animals, and the lives of those who live in the towns impacted by the fires. And I express again many of them are volunteers. They do this willingly. They’re not paid. They risk their lives to protect ours. They work long hours, often with little or no opportunity to stop for food, drinks or a rest, they work through night and day, and all sorts of weather conditions. Often, the equipment that they have to work with is old and outdated, or well-worn and in need of replacement, and still they go out to face the firefronts and battle like warriors to save everything and everyone that they can. Heroes.
It’s in moments like these that one truly appreciates the efforts and courage of our emergency service workers, and that seems a shame to me. I think we should be appreciative of these people and what they do all the time, rather than just in that moment when we need them.
To all of those people who volunteer in the emergency services, to all of those people who are professional emergency service workers: thank you for what you do. Thank you for risking your lives to protect and save ours. Thank you for being courageous enough to step away from your own families to help others. And thank you to the families, friends, and loved ones of anyone who is an emergency service worker for giving up everything and allowing your loved ones to be courageous on behalf of the rest of us. There are so many of us who owe so much to so few, and that should never be forgotten or underappreciated.