It is a frightening disaster. The death toll, for a western country, is almost incredible. The harrowing tales and the massive effort to get the situation under control suggest a fight to the end between the good guys and a monstrous, evil force bent on human destruction.
I was still trying to get my head around the 60 people burnt to death, when the toll shot up to 100. Now it is heading over 200. While not quite in the league of a natural disaster in a 3rd world death trap, the death toll is well beyond what we might call 'acceptable' for such an event.
Obviously people will say that fires are hard to control, that they start easily, and that this has never happened before. But it is still unacceptable.
Questions will have to be asked as to whether people should live in such dangerous surroundings. Most are aware of the risks, but do the benefits of living in the bush outweigh this risk? Are there enough fire bunkers spread around? Is it not possible to reduce the risk using very wide fire breaks, evacuation plans / drills, or early warning systems? Is there enough water and firefighting equipment standing around for when it is needed? Should people actually live somewhere else?
I think the number of dead will force a rethink of some of the above. For now the fight is still on, but already a royal commission into the bush fires has been announced. Lessons must be learned and this mustn't happen again.
Or mustn't it? How much of this is in fact a natural and random event over which we have no control? Has human arrogance, fueled by our mastery of building houses, air conditioning, shopping malls and comfortable cars, led us to believe that we control the world? Environmentalists even talk of our industrial output setting the temperature of the planet. Perhaps we have forgotten that we are a few tiny life forms on a ball of molten rock in a massive, freezing vacuum and orbiting a nuclear explosion?
We have lost our humility, and perhaps become over-confident about who runs what on this little planet. We should instead lose our conceit.