Saturday, January 17, 2009

Summer Smoke

Perth has been enveloped in smoke nearly all day. Because we live near the top of a north facing hill we can usually see a considerable distance but today the the smoke was so dense that we could only see a couple of blocks. It was like looking down on a thick fog. Immediately around us the air seemed clear but every breath came with its load of invisible particles. We had to keep the house closed up and so couldn't use the air conditioner because it's an evaporative one - a minor inconvenience really since we have ceiling fans and our house stays cool for up to four days even in temperatures over 38 degrees C. and we've had a run of those.

Over the day reports have come in about the fires. There are four but one of the most serious are in King's Park where arson is suspected. Homes have been threatened and people evacuated. For those who do not know Perth, King's Park is 1003 acres of bush and parkland adjacent to the western side of the CBD. This is much loved and a popular tourist spot with stunning views over the Swan River and why anyone would want to set a fire in the middle of the city is beyond belief. The other major city fire started at Two Rocks near Yanchep and is burning though Yanchep National Park and Pinjar Pine Plantation, while in the South West a serious fire, believed to be arson, is burning in Bridgetown.

I cannot imagine why anyone would start fires like this. They must know they stand the chance of killing people, not to mention animals and birds, and the cost of the fighting the fires will be nothing put along side the cost of trying to rebuild lives, homes and businesses.

I remember a ranger once telling me how, after a fire swept through some farming properties, he'd had to shoot hundreds of sheep, so badly burned they couldn't be saved. He hated doing it and said the sheep had just stood there unable even to walk, their eyes dark with pain and beyond even making a sound. These are the visible creatures but what about the birds burned in their nests, the lizards, the bandicoots and all the other small animals? They suffer just as much.

When I was about five a fire came close to where we were living. Our parents piled us into the truck ready to leave. I remember the crimson painted sky, the hot ash falling around us and the fire eating its way through the bush towards us like some immense monster. We were lucky that day. Something stopped the fire but sometimes not all the luck in the world will save lives and homes. It's a pity those who light these fires never take into account the consequences.

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