Bushfires and Climate Change – Shall we ever know if there is a connection?

I disappeared from blogging for the last two weeks.  It was not intentional.  The time slipped away quickly.  I was immersed in a re-write of my manuscript.  I have lost count of the number of drafts I have written.  I have labelled this latest version “11”, but some drafts have been merely removing excess adverbs.  Others have been major narration revision.  I think I have thrown out as many words as are still in the story – and there are 90,000 of them.  Now all I need to do is write an epilogue, something to let the reader know how it all turned out in the end, and then I shall venture into the world of literary agents and publishers.  For me, that is treading new, unknown ground.

In celebration that I have come this far, I have updated my LinkedIn profile.  I no longer say I am seeking part-time or contract administration work.  I have abandoned the corporate life in favour of writing.  With many thanks to the positive feedback and encouragement from readers of this blog!  (Note to self – change that corporate photo on LinkedIn to one profiling a relaxed Garrulous Gwendoline).  Here is a link to my LinkedIn profile.

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/gwendoline-gwen-wilson/43/906/127

The other reason for the break in blogging is because I have been waiting to see how the bushfires progress.  You may recall that two weeks ago I wrote about the weather creating perfect conditions for bushfires.  I did not realise, then, just how quickly and severely they would erupt.

Last Thursday fortnight, on our way to Dubbo, we drove over the Blue Mountains, passing the townships of Springwood, Winmalee, Blackheath, Mount Victoria, and the regional city of Lithgow (pop. 21,000 app).  Last Thursday week, these communities burst into flames.

Our eldest grand-daughter, fifteen year old TL, moved to Winmalee with her mother and step-father three months ago.  Last Thursday week, the morning was pleasant, and her mother left some windows open when they left for work and school.  Some hours later a bushfire broke out.  It came so quickly and so  unexpectedly that one local resident said, when he rang the emergency services, he did not even have time to listen to ‘do you want ambulance, fire, police’.  He had to hang up and run.

The local high school was put into lock down, all the students were gathered into a central place, and their parents contacted.  TL’s mum made it through by about 5pm.  Their first thought was for the two cats they had left at home.  They tried to drive to the house to collect them, but were stopped by a police road block.  As she was negotiating permission to pass, two houses in a nearby street caught fire, flames shooting into the air, clearly visible to them.  TL begged her mum to “get out of here”  – which they did.

Much later that night, or early the next morning, they were allowed back into their house.  They live at #16, – the houses #18 to #32 were obliterated.  The fire came so quickly.  Residents who were home and fire savvy, were watching down the gully, as fires normally come from that direction.  This one came over the hilltop at their backs and descended onto them.  It is thanks to those neighbours, and the presence of a pool and spa, that our grand-daughter’s house was spared.  The neighbours fought the fire from the back deck of the house.  The deck is partially gone, and the pool and spa a mass of molten plastic and metal, but the house itself was spared, although full of soot and ash (and the cats came home).  They were lucky.  More than fifty children in TL’s high school are now homeless.  The latest assessment of that area is 193 properties destroyed, and a further 109 damaged.

Mercifully, though, no loss of life in that area.  In another bush-fire, one man died of a heart attack while defending his home.  In a separate fire, further down the south coast, a fire fighter pilot died when his Dromader aircraft crashed.  It was being used to dump water on the fires.

At one stage or another in the last fortnight, there have been around sixty (or more?) fires burning in NSW, with many of those being in emergency, or ‘watch and act’ status.

On our morning walk today, Bill and I bumped a neighbour, just back from ten days in Canberra.  He reports they were lucky to get through on the drive down, the highway was closed to traffic about half an hour later, due to a massive fire in the Bargo area.  They were going to Canberra to tend a vineyard they have there.  He reported that in the last ten days, there were three nights of below zero temperatures, giving rise to frosts that destroyed many of the wine crops.  His was spared due to the fall of the land.

So here we are in October – spring in Australia – with raging (summer) bushfires and freezing (winter) nights.

We have a Prime Minister, a man well known for his disbelief in climate change, exploiting media opportunities dressed as ‘fire fighter hero’, and now professing his belief in climate change, at the same time as dismissing any consideration that there could possibly be any link with these  fires.

”Climate change is real as I’ve often said and we should take strong action against it. But these fires are certainly not a function of climate change,  they’re a function of life in Australia.”

It is true that Australia has a long history of bushfires.  However, the frequency, intensity and timing that we now experience deserve analysis.  This from Phil Koperberg, the former Rural Fire Services Commissioner.

It’s not the worst, but it is the earliest. We have never had this in October.  This is a feature of slowly evolving climate. We have always had fires, but not of this nature, and not at this time of year, and not accompanied by the record-breaking heat we’ve had.”

Even the United Nations weighed in.  Christiana Figueres, the head of the UN’s climate change negotiations, noted that the World Meteorological Organisation had not yet established a  direct link between the NSW fires and climate change.  However, she went on to say:
But what is absolutely clear is the science is telling us that there are  increasing heat waves in Asia, Europe, and Australia; that these will continue;  that they will continue in their intensity and in their frequency.

Our Prime Minister’s reaction?

”Well I think the official in question is talking through her hat, if I may say  so.”

I am not in a position to know whether climate change is, or is not, a factor in these bushfires, nor even the late frosts in Canberra.  However, if the comments of our Prime Minister are anything to go by, there is not even a need to ask the question.  Certainly our Environment Minister is not asking any questions – he is already quite sure there is no connection, because he looked it up on Wikipedia.  That research (?) revealed:

It was clear that bushfires in Australia were frequent events that had occurred during hotter months since before European  settlement.”

(NB: It wouldn’t be one of my blog posts if I didn’t inject a note of humour.  The problem is, the Environment Minister was not joking).

In my experience, sticking your head in the sand is a dangerous position.  You never know who or what is coming up behind you………

Garrulous Gwendoline, 28th October 2013, Wollongong

Footnote:  Thankfully, I do not have any photos of my own of bushfires.  To illustrate this blog with any that are on the internet would be breaking copyright.  However, there are many under Google Images if readers would care to see those shots from the various news agencies.  GG

9 thoughts on “Bushfires and Climate Change – Shall we ever know if there is a connection?

  1. Pingback: More roaming in NSW: Blue Mountains to Lithgow | The Reluctant Retiree

  2. Oh yes, hot and windy days are scary days. Unfortunately too many people in this world have not yet realized that we are all together in it, and what some do or not do will affect all. Australia is happy to reap the benefits of its Mining Industry but forgets that she will, too, have to bear the consequences.

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  3. Congratulations on finishing your m/s, I feel your pain. I edited my first novel from 140k words to 90k but I know, now, that it is better for it! LinkedIn is v important for agents checking you out, also add your blog details on your CV plus anything else you do online such as Goodreads. Good luck! SD

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    • Thanks for the tips Sandra. I am sure my m/s is better now, but whether it is tight enough at 90,000 is a big question. Where was your first booked published? I think Australian publishers might be reluctant to take a cost risk on more than 80,000 words. The next few months will be revealing.

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  4. Hi GG, Had noticed you hadn’t posted for a while and had seen on the UK news the bush-fires in NSW, and had hoped you and your family were well out of the way – my geography of Australia is not great – but shocked to read about your granddaughter and her mum. It must have been terrifying. I hope everybody’s recovered. Global warming, I guess we are all going to have to learn to adapt. Good luck with the agents and publishers. Agnes

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    • Thanks Agnes. Mercifully, I have never been in the face of a bushfire. I am not sure how I would react. They say the noise is astounding. I must say, when I saw the amount of smoke at the back of our own escarpment (no-where near my grand-daughter), I was eying the distance to run to the beach 🙂

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