REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia, These aren't the worst of times, they're still to come

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by journalist Andrew Messenger who is based in the NSW Northern Tablelands

Gone, all gone: Wytaliba residents saw their village burn back in November.

Gone, all gone: Wytaliba residents saw their village burn back in November.

Living in a climate emergency feels like the world's slowest train crash.

Everyone knew this fire season was going to be beyond dangerous. The worst drought in history, combined with the worst fire conditions in in history and the hottest summer in history combined to make it essentially inevitable. Warnings are years old.

But I think everyone was still surprised when our first dangerous bushfire smashed through the outskirts of Tenterfield in the first week of September, the first days of Spring.

Tenterfield's fast-moving grass fires in September were a sign of things to come. Photo: Gareth Gardner

Tenterfield's fast-moving grass fires in September were a sign of things to come. Photo: Gareth Gardner

Kindergartners watched on as the intense blaze tore through the edge of the town itself. The fire was so fast moving it was already an inferno by the time anyone knew it existed.

There was actually still a chill in the air as bushfires fighters battled the blaze; some from the RFS said it was almost adding insult to, for one of them, injury.

When a month later in much hotter conditions, fires smashed through the communities of Torrington and Wytaliba, wrecking homes and lives. It felt like the tragedy was just going on and on and on.

Firefighters and residents tried to make the most of the slight easing in conditions on Sunday. Photo: Talaya Abbott

Firefighters and residents tried to make the most of the slight easing in conditions on Sunday. Photo: Talaya Abbott

But after 140 days, it feels like the RFS has the bushfires in our region licked.

Just think about what that means:

Over a hundred firefighters were stationed for months in my town, Glen Innes. Firies from every state and territory; Canadians, New Zealanders, volunteers from every agency under the sun, plus hundreds more locals. Bushfire experts working as hard as some have ever worked, every day of the week.

And it took them hundreds of days to control a bushfire emergency in one region. It's the longest deployment in the history of the RFS; they fought over 640 blazes.

And that bushfire emergency killed people, and wrecked whole communities anyway. It hurt big and small; our mayor lost her house. Farmers lost entire properties.

That scares the bezeesus out of me.

And of course, this bushfire season has not ended yet - in fact, for some parts of Australia, it has just begun. Three American volunteers yesterday gave their lives defending our country. Eight firefighters were injured in another battle around Canberra. They will not be the last fatalities this season.

And in the prescient words of Red Cross boss Judy Slatyer, who in Glen Innes in August essentially predicted this fire season: "I've probably just been through the coolest summer I'll see for the rest of my life".

Remember - this is a bit over 1 degree. At current predictions, we will certainly hit at least 1.5 degrees in a few decades. If we don't put more effort in, it'll be 3 or 4 degrees.

Communities in my region are now starting the cleanup process - starting, three months on, to rebuild their lives, while for many still living around the ruins of their homes.

But this won't be the last horrifying fire emergency for our region, by a long shot.

This won't be the last time people lose homes or lives to bushfires. And in a few years we will once again be talking about "unprecedented" blazes that dwarf even these monsters, that kill dozens more.

One hundred and forty days since this fire season has started, some might want to ask when will it end?

The answer is: never.

Andrew Messenger

journalist, Glen Innes Examiner

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