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article imageOp-Ed: Australian fires — The fire and the anger

By Paul Wallis     Jan 2, 2020 in World
Sydney - Nobody knows how this fire season will turn out. With 9 dead, hundreds of thousands of hectares burned out, many properties devastated, there’s more to come. Australians are furious, with good reason.
Australia is entering its fourth solid month of fires, and it’s only just now mid-summer. Our usual fire season is about 3 months. It’s already been three months, and there are two more months to go. These fires are also on a scale never before seen. This season is the equivalent of multiple bad seasons.
A new heatwave will hit tomorrow, with temperatures in the 40C range across much of the country. In a bone-dry drought, that means perfect fire conditions, no humidity, and of course the ever-present smoke and dust. The smoke travels hundreds of miles, turning the sun orange even far away from the fires.
We’ve also been lucky so far in that the big cities aren’t under siege from the usual summer fires. If they were, there would have to be redeployments of firefighters away from the current fires to those areas, which would be another instant disaster.
The damage
Before we get onto the sheer fury of people who’ve lost everything, some background. Please bear in mind these are just the basics:
• An area bigger than Texas has been incinerated. The scope and scale of destruction is unprecedented. The fires are coast to coast, nationwide.
• Towns have been burned out. The residents of Mallacoota, a famous and popular holiday spot for generations, are being evacuated by the navy. The Far South Coast of New South Wales, where I used to live has lost a lot of land.
• Coastal tourist areas with hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors have been devastated.
• A lot of high value commercial, rural and residential property has gone, from Queensland to Western Australia.
• Rebuilding will take a very long time. The cost in time, as well as money to rebuild, may be deadly for some places. In the middle of a drought which was already murdering cashflow in rural areas, that’s likely to be a backbreaker for many people. For perhaps the first time in history, nobody’s even trying to estimate the cost of the damage. That’s a worrying sign, because normally people know roughly how much the damage costs. This time, nobody knows or even pretends to know. The cost will obviously be far in excess of any previous year.
• Insurers will take a massive hit. Some payouts may take years, court actions, etc. Any claim may be an issue where payments aren’t automatically made. For some of these towns, that inevitable delay could destroy their economies, close businesses, and set off a cascade of business collapses.
• The national economy as a whole will be hit in multiple ways, including food prices, lost business, etc. It’s an inventory of serious hits, affecting all aspects of basic business and daily life.
• The environment: An estimated 500 million animals may have perished. (This number is debatable. Estimating numbers of Australian animals isn’t an exact science at the best of times. Native animals are adapted to fire, but maybe not to this sort of national inferno. There have certainly been a lot of deaths, but it’s a catastrophic hit whatever the actual figures.)We’re hoping it’s not that bad, but there’s no way of knowing, yet.
There is simply no adequate way of expressing how dangerous and destructive these very fast-moving fires are. Our all-too-obviously under-resourced fire and emergency services have achieved miracles. Given the national scale of the ongoing disaster, we’ve got off a bit better than a decade ago, when 147 people died in smaller fires.
Bushfires can turn cars into puddles of metal and buildings into pathetic, totally trashed garbage dumps in a few minutes. Radiant heat can burn you from a hundred metres or so away.
We’ve been fortunate to receive very much appreciated help from America and Canada. They’ve already done an incredible job and provided some relief for our horribly over-strained fire teams.
The anger is hotter than the fires
Australia’s unprecedented fires have generated equally hot, fully justified anger. Australian governments, state and federal, are seen as responding poorly at best:
• Everyone knows how severely stretched the Australian emergency services usually are.
• They have to raise money by donations.
• They tried to do proper fuel clearance before the fire season, but had “inadequate resources”. That’s not even funny. We’re a super-rich country, and we do nothing about basic common sense?
• Only now are people talking about pay for them.
• They have to travel constantly in fire season, working in impossible heat.
• The military, only now called in to help, could have been called in a lot sooner, allowing the firefighters to recover.
• No word of support for fire victims, financial or otherwise, is trickling into the mix.
• The financial uncertainties are a cruelty on top of a disaster for many fire victims.
Australian governments are generally and rightly regarded as furniture and despised accordingly depending on portfolios. We have the Lounge Suite for Education, the Sofa for Social Security, or in this case the China Hutch for Emergency Services.
Government should:
• Move immediately to manage financial issues.
• Take action ASAP to free up whatever resources are required for the current fire season.
• Immediately begin a nationwide upgrade of all emergency services, terms of service for firefighters and other operators.
• Pay attention when told resources aren’t up to scratch.
• Make it standard procedure to put the ADF on standby to support emergency services.
• Upgrade all fire services. They don’t even have adequate respirators. A no-brainer, for sure, but that’s another total incompetence issue.
This sloppy response is totally inadequate on every level. Get off your fat rich backsides and do the job properly for once, you bludgers.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Australia bushfires 2019, government response to bushfires 2019, Mallacoota, Far South Coast bushfires, Australian emergency servicces funding
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