Saturday 7th February 2009 will remain one of those horrific days that will last in my memory forever. Similar to 9/11.
As I begin the excitement of my own house build journey, I can only feel guilt and utter sadness at the tragic loss of so many houses and people's lives in the devastating bushfires to impact Victoria yesterday, and today. The death toll appears to grow each hour as the full impact of the fires filters through. Last official head count is 76, and by the time I finish this post it could have risen further.
Saturday 7th February was predicted to be the worst fire weather day on record, with temperatures in Melbourne CBD forecast to hit 44C, accompanied with a strong hot gusty north wind, then followed by a strong, dry, cool wind change...disastrous for fire weather. It was a day tipped to be worse conditions than February 16th 1983, when Victoria suffered horrific bushfires in the 'Ash Wednesday' tragedy.
I was supposed to be going to a BBQ yesterday on Mt Macedon, an area totally devastated by the Ash Wednesday bushfires, and it was on Thursday we decided to cancel. The risk was just too great, knowing what had happened previously, and knowing there is pretty much one way up, and one 'escape route' down the mountain.
It was a day to be indoors anyway, and a BBQ would not have been pleasant given the circumstances. The day began fairly warm, but as the hot air mass moved into Victoria from the north, the temperatures, and strong winds, quickly soared.
The news of fires in Victoria filled the media in the early afternoon, and by 3pm, I had recorded a max temperature of 46.2C - the hottest I have ever experienced. Melbourne's official temperature reached 46.4C, and set a new record for the hottest temperature since records began.
What transpired was almost a 'fire incident' a minute on the Country Fire Authority's (CFA) website. There were up to, and if not over, 10 major fires burning out of control in the State by nightfall. Many houses lost, and the possibility of many lives lost. Areas impacted by fires included the Bunyip State Forest near Pakenham, Waldon/Kilmore areas, the outskirts of Bendigo, Kinglake region and several in the west of the State just to name a few.
The gusty cool change came through Melbourne just after 5pm, bringing relief from the extreme temperatures but a nightmare for fire fighters. Fires that were burning on narrow fronts towards the South East due to the direction of the winds, suddenly became huge fronts burning towards the North East. Towns which had previously been 'spared' found themselves in the path of the flames.
Just before sunset, I decided to go to a lookout (a favourite for storm photography), and photograph the smoke from the fires. I had no idea, once the low level cloud obscuring my view cleared, what was to lay before my eyes. It was a huge, almost apocalyptic, cloud commonly termed Pyrocumulus. Grown purely through the intense heating of the fire, and, unfortunately, this cloud went on to produce lightning possibly further enhancing the already catastrophic fires.
I woke to the news of unconfirmed reports that the townships of Kinglake and Marysville had all but completely gone. Totally decimated by fire. Many homes lost in Bendigo and the Kilmore regions, as well as near Beechworth in the State's North East.
I cannot begin to comprehend what these poor people have experienced and will continue to experience. To lose absolutely everything by a raging fire which tore through whole communities is unimaginable.
As I prepare to post this onto my blog, I have just learned that the death toll has now risen to a confirmed 84...
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