Today is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday falls in the hottest part of summer in Australia. Unfortunately much of the country is prone to bushfires. In fact there is still one big one in Gippsland which has been out of control now for around three weeks. If it was burning in Melbourne, it would cover more than half of the metropolitan area.
Flashback to Ash Wednesday 1983. February 16th. My 11th birthday.
Due to the bushfires that took hold of south east Australia, this is one of my most memorable birthdays. Victoria is one of the world’s most fire prone areas. We have high temps and low rainfall which is the perfect recipe for starting fires. In 1983 we were coming out of a drought. We’d had 75% less rain than normal during that period of time. This meant there was plenty of fuel to feed the fire; dry leaves, twigs and other vegetation.
It was a very scary time for an 11 year old who didn’t have much understanding of what the conditions meant. I only knew that I loved the hot weather. And still do today. Eight days before the fires Melbourne was covered in a huge dust storm.
Seventy five people died in those fires. One of the major fires was in the Dandenong Ranges, near where we lived. They were only 20-30kms away. So close that I couldn’t sleep that night; too scared in case the fires came near our house. I didn’t have much concept of distance at that age.