We are in shock. The devastation and loss of life is just overwhelming. Yesterday I stood outside work and watched a convoy of little fire-trucks, one after another - heaps of them - heading up the highway towards Yarra Glen under police escort. I didn't know whether to clap or cry.
Saturday was the hottest day we've ever had in Victoria - 46.4 degrees. The heat was so dense it took your breath away, and it felt aggressive, malevolent. As if it was just biding its time, waiting for a sign. Then in the afternoon it flared - fires dotted around the state, some natural, some the work of arsonists whose motivation is beyond me. The fire here at Ferntree Gully was relatively minor, just enough to give us all a scare and turn the sky putrid for the evening. But Gippsland and Beechworth and Horsham and Marysville and Wandong and poor bloody Kinglake, who, after the wind change, had the inferno scream up the hill in two minutes flat - they burnt, and burnt. Streets where every single person who stayed to fight was killed. Burnt out cars that were now coffins, run off the road as people tried to escape. Acre after acre of skeletal trees and roasted earth. Tractors that have literally melted into molten rivulets embedded within the dirt. Lonely chimneys standing guard over twisted roofing and crumbled brick. Entire towns wiped off the map.
The death toll rises all the time. We gasped when it was 14, but now, as it climbs past 180, we're simply numb. Too many to contemplate. Until you see the faces in the newspaper. Whole families, smiling couples, children grinning shyly at the lens, teenagers with skin like milk, men of 80 who have been through many fires but nothing like this. And now, never again.
I've given blood, and books for care packages (well done Yvette), and donated to the appeal - but it's still frustrating because it's hard to know what else to do. Except send my heartfelt thoughts to everyone affected by these dreadful fires and let you all know that the rest of us mightn't be there, because we know we'd just get in the way, but nevertheless we're still with you. You're not alone.