On Saturday afternoon when I sat down and wrote my post about thirsty koalas, the news coming out of Australia about the bush fires in Victoria was pretty terrible. At that stage the death toll was 14 and comparisons were being made with Ash Wednesday in 1983.
I have scary memories of Ash Wednesday. I remember lying awake all night listening to news bulletins on my radio hoping and praying that our own rural community in South Gippsland would be spared from bushfire. It was a weird kind of fear that never really left me. When I lived in Australia I absolutely dreaded hot summer days with strong northerly winds: just thinking about the sound of it roaring through gum trees is enough, even now, to send shivers down my spine.
So yesterday, tracking the progress of the bushfires on the web and Google maps I had a funny feeling of déjà vu. I got goosebumps when I realised Brian Naylor, the newsreader I had grown up watching every night, was one of the people feared dead.
I kept thinking of my dad, who is a volunteer firefighter with the Country Fire Authority (CFA), and hoping he was safe. He'd spent the weekend before last tackling the fires in Boolarra and Mirboo North, so I knew he'd probably be out helping again, most likely the fires at Bunyip State Park or maybe Churchill, both regions that are relatively close to where my parents live (and where I grew up) in South Gippsland.
Things got progressively worse hour by hour as I sat here in my flat in West London plugged into the internet. You know things are pretty bad when a story becomes the lead on the BBC News website. Worse when it starts making the splash pages of the national dailies, like The Guardian and The Times. I was terribly shocked this morning to pick up the free daily Metro on the tube this morning whose lead headline screamed Australia's fires from 'hell' kill 135.
Tonight it was the lead on Channel 4 News. [This video is from last night's bulletin; tonight's isn't online yet.]
Even now I can't quite believe that more than 170 are dead. Officials believe it will rise even higher, possibly to 230. I suddenly feel a very, very long way from home.