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Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Day for the Record Books

All last week in Melbourne, the forecasts for today were ominous, with talk of a return of last week's heatwave conditions as well as some of the most extreme fire weather in memory. The forecasts proved quite accurate, with temperatures in Melbourne topping out this afternoon at over 46C (117F), the highest temperature ever recorded within the city. Meanwhile, high winds played havoc with bushfires - fires that were relatively small and isolated 24 hours ago erupted into massive fires that burned out-of-control (go here for some photos). By early afternoon, the view from our balcony was totally obscured by smoke from the Bunyip Ridge fire to the east of Melbourne. At present, the death toll stands at 14, with some victims being caught by fast moving fires that provided little warning. But that number is projected to rise. While temperatures have dropped back down to normal levels, the changing wind direction threatens to simply push fire fronts off into new areas.

Update: 8/2/2009: 24 hours later and temperatures have returned to normal levels in Victoria, but the bushfires continue to rage. As of 7:45 Sunday evening, the death toll stood at 66 and climbing, making this one of the worst fires (if not the worst) in Victoria's history. Over 700 houses have been destroyed, and in some instances, entire townships have been erased including the town of Marysville, where I once spent a couple of pleasant nights attending a conference.

Update: 14/2/2009: As the immediate fire threats begin to subside (for the moment), the full weight of the losses that have been experienced are starting to sink in. The death toll from Victoria's bushfires has stood at 181 for the past few days, but this is almost certain to rise further as search efforts wrap-up. Approximately 2000 homes have been lost. Meanwhile, the finger pointing has started in earnest, with some pointing to climate change and others pointing to "green" policies and ideology that have hindered fuel-reduction efforts through burn-offs and vegetation thinning around properties.

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