OPINION: Editorial: We don't want those pretty skies back.
Not the glowing amber curtain over our western horizon that artificially beautifies our own vistas in Southland but signifies heartache, and worse, in Australia.
Bushfire season can be such a brutal time in the Lucky Country. So much so that even while residents of one heritage seaside town on the New South Wales central coast have been calling the scene there "apocalyptic", the sorry reality is that this may yet be merely the start, rather than the climax, of the seasonal horrors.
It has been a dry winter and the terrain is so parched, so expansive, and so envelops communities and abuts cities, that the danger to lives as well as property remains extreme - and will remain so even when the present fires are tamed.
Australians are no strangers to these fires and generally know to how to react to them. But not even that so-very-hard- earned knowledge emphatically protects the most imperilled communities.
When Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons choked up while praising his crews as the best in the world, it was in the knowledge that many of them had lost their own homes while they were hazarding so much to help keep others safe and well.
After the Canterbury earthquakes, South Islanders will surely recognise that sort of heroism.
What's more, with so many of our own families and friends now living in Australia, our feelings for our neighbours are, in so many cases, more personal than simple empathy.
And, with what seems hideous inevitability, serious investigations must now begin into whether the latest carnage was ignited by human malice. Arson has been implicated in all three of the fires that have torn through the Blue Mountains.
Typical seasonal bushfires are bad enough by any measure but, at times, Australia has been afflicted by outbreaks of such scale and ferocity that they have entered the cultural vocabulary. Like 1983's Ash Wednesday, with 47 dead in Victoria and 28 in South Australia. Then 2009's Black Saturday, in which 173 died and more than 400 were injured.
Much of the work that Australia has long undertaken to fend off bushfire calamities, or at least minimise the harm, has needed to be planning. Among these measures has been buying back land to move people from the most vulnerable areas, and the controlled burnoffs on great tracts of land to remove fuel.
On top of which has come, reasonably enough but controversially even so, restrictions on building in bushfire- prone areas. This has in turn led to frustrated anger and the prospect of class actions being taken in the courts.
Much as the combination of common sense and hard experience has served much of Australia well, these periodic reminders of vulnerability make the need for preparedness more vivid and that, in itself, is no bad thing. Already in Victoria, for instance, communities are reminding themselves that of the 67 royal commission recommendations to result from Black Saturday, 20 remain outstanding. Among the concerns is the still-awaited provision for community fire refuges, while some homeowners' substandard safety retreats are looking like deathtraps in themselves.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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