FIRE WEATHER WARNING FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Issued at 6:55 am CDT on Thursday, 19 November 2009.
Thursday, 19 November 2009 is forecast to be very hot and dry for all of South Australia. Fresh to strong north to northwest winds over the west of the state, will shift fresh southwesterly with a change reaching Ceduna mid afternoon and a line Tarcoola to Adelaide around midnight.
Catastrophic Fire Danger [100+] is forecast for the West Coast, Eastern Eyre Peninsula and Lower Eyre Peninsula Total Fire Ban districts.
Extreme Fire Danger [75-99] is forecast for the Northwest Pastoral and Flinders Total Fire Ban districts.
Severe Fire Danger [50-74] is forecast for the Mid North Total Fire Ban district.
The Country Fire Service advises that fires burning under these conditions are likely to be fast moving, unpredictable and uncontrollable. You should action your Bushfire Survival Plan now.
The forecast maximum temperature for Adelaide today is 43 degrees. Ceduna and Leigh Creek are expecting 45, Port Augusta 47.
Yesterday was the first day on which the new system of identifying fire danger in South Australia made use of the category Catastrophic. 'Catastrophic', aka 'Code Red', basically means 'Leave now, flee, run for your lives.' One of the regions listed under this red code is Lower Eyre Peninsula, the site of an uncontrollable bushfire in January 2005, a fire in which nine people died and dozens more were rendered homeless, penniless, and/or permanently damaged in some other way. The events of the fire had a long tail of depression, PTSD and suicide.
On the news last night they were interviewing people from the affected rural areas. Obviously the TV station (Seven, I think) edited their footage to suit their own purposes, and who knows what agendas lurk in the hearts of producers of commercial TV news, but everyone whose interview made it to the screen responded with that combination of steely and laconic that I remember so well from having grown up with it, in a slightly (but only slightly) kinder, gentler part of rural South Australia. (UPDATE: here, in fact, where the only SA bushfire of the day so far has broken out two paddocks across from the house I grew up in. Fark.)
Two fortyish, weatherbeaten male farmers said they wouldn't leave unless there was an actual fire. A young woman with kids was cross that the schools had been closed, not because it meant she had the kids at home (most country people regard that as an advantage; they can help with the work) but because she felt her kids were unnecessarily missing out on a precious day of education. One dear old hatted dude in the pub, a man of at least 80 and probably older, scorned the idea of leaving. 'There's no fire. And,' he added, looking the camera in the eye, 'I wouldn't be scared or worried if there was.' It was very obvious that he didn't necessarily mean he thought he was safe. Country people live with death on a daily basis and learn to look it in the eye.
My guess is that in the endless quest for ratings the station was pandering to the prejudices of urban viewers by trying to make country people look too stupid to come in out of the rain. If so, it sort of backfired; they looked at least as brave as they looked silly. I wasn't sure whether to admire them or scream at them. But I guess those two things aren't mutually exclusive.
The Curramulka fire started about a mile back over where my right shoulder would have been when I took this photo, which faces south. The paddock you can see to the right of the tree in the middle of the picture would have been one of the first to burn. My childhood home is a couple of hundred metres down this road on the left. The township is down where you can see the land dipping into a hollow like a saucer or a nest, about 5 km south of here.
The fire passed by very close to the town and headed south-east. It's now been contained, but about an hour ago there was supposed to be a wind change that might push it back towards the town along a projected path that would lead it directly towards the cemetery where my great-grandparents and great-great grandparents are buried. If those gravestones are damaged my father is going to be very seriously dark.
UPDATE UPDATE, 10.30 pm: Yep, here we go; the cemetery and further north what used to be our family farm are smack in the middle of this danger area. I've been watching that dry lightning in the western sky across the gulf ever since it got dark.
In December 1869, great-great-granpappy got forced over the cliff and into the sea with his son John and the horse and cart by a bushfire that unbeknownst to them until hours later had already killed the shepherd, the shepherd's son and over a thousand sheep. G-G-Granpa and his boy trod water while bits of burning debris rained down on them, along this same stretch of coast that's now under threat again, in the same bay where I learned to swim. The fire will probably pass over all four of their graves, and they'll be shaking their
This region is family heartland. Not happy.
UPDATE #3, midnight:
Okay, that was scary.
It's still filthy hot here, oven-hot, so I got in the car and drove the ten minutes to the same beach where the boy from the Bruce Springsteen song held his girl so sadly while the sun set into the sea and the kids rode the water slide and the merry-go-round a couple of nights ago. It's another Springsteen night tonight, the sea roaring and shadowy couples in shorts and sundresses lined up in cars along the edge of the dunes or trailing down to the beach with ice creams and tinnies.
I'd thought I might be able to see some sort of glow from the fire across the gulf. But I wasn't prepared for the actual line of golden, flickering flames where my and my father's and his father's and his father's childhood beaches were on fire in the dark, due west across the water. A few miles south of the fire I could see the faint lights of a town that must have been Port Vincent, now quite a big town, full of apprehensive people all still up with the lights on, thinking about what to do: full of women alone, still up, still dressed, making cups of coffee and cups of tea, checking on the kids, watching the phone while their blokes were out at the fire, waiting for their blokes to come home.
I pulled up on the esplanade and wound down the car window. Under the heavy complicated smell of the incoming tide and the wind in the pines and the cars along the foreshore and the warm spitty rain hitting the hot road in tiny drops and steaming, under all that, there was the faintest note of smoke.