A horrible, horrible few days in Victoria. We spent all of yesterday huddled numbly by the radio, trying to make sense of the increasingly awful news, looking up tiny townships on the map, and frantically trying to contact friends who live in one of the worst-affected fire zones (they're safe, and so is their house - just).
Over a hundred people are confirmed dead so far, but that total is sure to rise, and hundreds of houses have been destroyed. They are the worst bushfires in the state's history. The only positive aspect of the devastation has been the ready, almost automatic, generosity that people have shown - relief centres have received more donated goods than they can distribute, and the ABC website is crammed with more than a thousand offers of accommodation and help. (Thank God for the ABC, by the way.)
My parents also live in a fire-prone area (they were spared this time round, fortunately). One of my earliest memories is watching bushfires burn by night from our dining-room window, the orange flare of flames against the dark bulk of the hillside. I remember the street full of choking smoke and ash, and the fear that lurked in nightmares for years afterwards. I still have a recurring dream that fire is coming, that we have to grab what we can and flee, even though I haven't lived in my parents' house for twenty-five years.
This morning, for so many, that nightmare, and much worse, has come true.