Over 130 confirmed dead.
Over 700 homes destroyed.
At least two towns wiped off the map forever.
It is already Australia's worst natural disaster in history, with the death toll expected to more than double (and perhaps triple) that experienced during the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires, and still 31 fires rage on.
There are three incredible bushfires currently happening in my state. The smoke from one of these has plagued my town since Saturday. Talking to different people, some are concerned. Some are confident we will be okay. Almost everyone has a bag by the door in case we are told to leave (I don't, but perhaps I should. But I have insurance, I'll run with just my phone and my wallet if I have to.)
I woke up this morning thinking it's ridiculous to think the fires would ever reach us. There are bushfires around here every year, and they are all controlled before they get too serious. It's part of living in rural Australia, these things happen. I was joking about it, laughing it off. I think my Facebook status still reads "is worried he isn't worried enough. Or maybe everyone else is too worried. Yes, it's everyone else who's wrong"
I didn't realise how much worse this fire was than any of the others I have seen.
It is concerning to look at the "Statewide Current Incident" report and see the number of fires which have no fire trucks on the scene. They can't be there. Resources are stretched to the limit controlling the three major blazes. In fact, when I went to bed last night, there were four major blazes, two of which were near here and one of which was heading this way. Sometime today one of the blazes switched direction and joined up with the other fire, which now covers some 93,000 hectares.
We've been told that if the fire comes here, we can't expect any support from the fire department.
We already had American firefighters in the country (apparently we do a bit of a trade with them, some of them come over here during their winter and some of ours go over there during their winter), we have any spare firefighters available coming in from other states, and we have 100 firefighters in New Zealand on standby. The conditions they have to deal with are amazing, as you can see in the picture above.
Anyone who isn't here is concerned about those who are. All day at work people's phones were actively ringing, another loved one seeing if we're okay and if we've decided to leave town. I have a friend with a sister in town (long time readers of this blog might recall) and she was messaging us both on Facebook most of the day. She told me her sister was deciding to leave (a quick review of her wall revealed she never had any such intentions) and I had a friend messaging me most of yesterday saying "Shouldn't you get the fuck out of there?"
But those of us who are here laugh off the concern. At the moment we are safe. There were a few alerts issued last night and this morning, but never a warning. The outskirts of the fire are still over twenty kilometres away, and at the moment the wind is on our side.
The radio was flooded with stories today as they broadcast from the shelters set up for those who have lost their homes. Some tragic, some heroic.
Three sisters were preparing to leave town and sent their three husbands to check on their parents and handicapped brother nearby. The brothers got their to find the car in the driveway, the keys in the ignition, clothes in back and three corpses inside.
A teenager ran through a burning paddock and managed to save the lives of his sister and eight other children who had been sheltering in a nearby home, after hearing his sisters call for help to a local radio station.
But what really made me sick to my stomach was after hearing the same warning all day, "Residents are warned if you live in any of these areas are warned that if you're going to leave, leave when you see the smoke, if you leave when you see the flames it's too late and you will have to stay and fight", there was a new message just before five o'clock. "If you're still in the following areas, it's now too late, you will not get out and you will have to stay and fight"
I just hope that's not the message I hear when I wake up tomorrow morning. I know when I'm awake I'm ok, I can monitor, I can leave. I don't think I'll sleep tonight.
But don't worry about me pets. I try not to make a habit of being engulfed in flames. And I promise you that if I am, I certainly won't let it happen again.
Also, I cut my hand at work today when a shelf I was moving fell apart. You'd think with all the warnings about bushfires they could spare 5 minutes of radio time to warn me about breaking shelves.
** UPDATE ** There was a missed call on my answering machine from a stranger telling me most of the houses in their street survived, and they're okay. I don't know who they are, but it's nice to know.