Anne here. A month ago I blogged about extreme weather and the heat wave that struck Melbourne, the city I live in. The next day we had the worst bushfires in our history. The extreme heat, the prolonged drought and the weather conditions on the days following all contributed to the most appalling disaster.
Whole communities have been devastated, two hundred and ten people killed, hundreds of houses, thousands of animals killed, and miles and miles of beautiful bushland reduced to ash and charcoal. Words cannot describe the tragedy that resulted. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones, homes, livelihoods in the fire. Almost everyone I know has someone who has been touched by this disaster.
The speed, intensity and power of the fires was unimaginable. Cars melted as people tried to drive them away. Houses, and all their contents were reduced to ash and rubble. It came like a tsunami of fire, and whole communities, accustomed to fighting bushfires, were devoured in minutes.
Which brings me to the topic of this blog. I'm not talking about heroes in books this time. This is a tribute to the everyday heroes who've been fighting these fires, day and night for weeks on end. The firefighters, the men and women who've battled on, exhausted in the heat and smoke, facing the unimaginable, but never giving up.
Because the vast majority of these ordinary men and women are volunteer firefighters. They are members of the Country Fire Authority, which is one of the largest volunteer-based organizations in the world. The CFA services more than 150,000 square kilometres and 2.8 million people, and currently has nearly 60,000 active volunteers with almost 500 career firefighters and 700 career support staff.[Photo: Jason South (theage.com.au)]
They are volunteers, unpaid, but highly trained, regularly risking their lives, and giving up their time to fight fires. In the last month they have worked around the clock to bring these fires under control. Some of them have lost their own houses to the fires while they were battling to save someone else's.
Heroes one and all. As are their partners, the husbands and wives who support them, and the families who must cope with the anxiety and the aftermath. It's not just a dangerous, exhausting job, it's also emotionally devastating.
The fires raged on. For weeks the city air was a haze of smoke. But a few days ago it rained — the first rain we've had in months — and finally, finally the last of the bushfires were brought under control. [Photo : David Caird]
And after the fires passed, while the firefighters and volunteer rescue services were cleaning up, more heroes came to pick up the pieces; the survivors — human and animal — fed, clothed and housed, the tragic remains identified. Donations have been flooding in — the whole country is appalled by the loss. People are desperate to help.
Almost immediately after the fires were reported, other local communities started to organize. There but for the grace of God…
Following is part of an email sent to me by a friend, a fellow writer who volunteers as a tourist guide one morning a week. It was sentn on 11th February. I have her permission to share it.
Today was simply amazing – our local shire took it upon themselves to put out a plea for any sort of animal needs from budgie to camel. We diverted the big stuff – that's on its way already – what we coped with today was the small stuff. I have never seen a com
munity so desperate to do something. We had old men with budgie food and old ladies staggering under 40 kg bags of dog food and people who looked like they had no money to bless themselves with coming in with a boot load of quality dog food – `in small lots cos they'd be more useful in a tent' – aren't some people thoughtful? We had vets arriving with vet stuff – things like teats for injured animals – we had kennels arriving – one guy arrived with ten brand new trampoline beds for big dogs. And so much kitty litter!!! The woman I was working with was muttering "What's wrong with ash?" We filled the local hall which is huge. People came to give and stayed to help.
We had wooden pallets donated – every time we needed something it generally took half a phone call – moving van guys donated boxes – we needed plastic and tape and the manager of local stationery supplier was there in a minute -we'd organized trailers but just when the stuff was starting to look overwhelming, one guy came in with a whole bunch of horse gear —fantastic stuff — his daughter's grown out of riding – looked around said you guys look like you could use a semi trailer and five minutes later he had it organized so we have a huge semi – then had to reorganize load so every centre gets what it needs and stuff is easy to unpack. Thanks to our stationery guy every pallet is cling wrapped so they're totally weather proof and vermin proof.
Cos I had a name tag – there were five of us with name tags – everyone assumed we knew what we were doing and amazingly it sort of worked. Half way through the afternoon when tins of cat food were starting to blow a hole in our heads the manager of the local disability workshop arrived with ten kids – they took over a couple of stalls and did the most fantastic job boxing tins according to pics on cans. And the people,… I can't tell you – horse floats and ancient utes and a zippy little open topped Mazda Mx 5 loaded with chook feed – lined up in the street waiting for their turn to unload.
And one lady brought in a huge load of old blankets which was fab – looked at us all, went away and came back with two cartons of cold drinks. Aren't people fabulous?
Ain't it the truth? People can be fabulous, and we need to remind ourselves of that, when the media mainly shows us the other side of the coin. There are everyday heroes all around us, not just in books.
So who are your everyday heroes?