St Patrick’s Day 2018 will long be seared in the minds of south-west Victorians. Fires fanned by howling winds and unseasonally warm temperatures late at night whipped through parts of the region at unprecedented speeds.
It is a miracle no lives were lost.
The toll of 24 homes, 47 sheds, more than 16,000 hectares and estimates of 10,000 animals is signficantly larger than the Black Saturday fires around the region in 2009. Those who lived through the devastating 1983 Ash Wednesday fires say the pace of last Saturday’s blazes was faster and scarier than that February day which has become the benchmark, such were their ferocity.
Those affected by the fires are and will continue to be in our hearts and thoughts as they attempt to come to terms with what’s happened and then rebuild. Our community has an unbreakable spirit. We have united this week firstly through the brave efforts of our firefighters and emergency services during the terrifying night of flames. Those who woke up to the news that communities had been devastated reached out. The efforts of electricity workers to restore power so quickly and those of the volunteers across a range of other services have been outstanding.
We need to stick together and rally around those impacted, not just now, but in the days, weeks and months to come. Survival was priority number one but surviving the emotional times ahead is even more critical. We can all do something, no matter how small or big.
Police pinpointed the cause of the four major fires to electrical assets, including a power pole that snapped at The Sisters and sparked a grass fire that raced through paddocks. Electricity provider Powercor needs to answer a lot of questions. Its workers who toiled through long days and nights restoring power this week are to be congratulated but the company needs to reveal its progress on implementing recommendations from the Black Saturday Royal Commission.
The blackspots in telecommunications coverage highlighted this week also need to be addressed by Telstra as a matter of importance. Telecommunication advancements no doubt helped save lives but our dependence on technology which failed could have had dire consequences. The Standard will continue to support those affected, praise those who deserve it and hold those responsible to account. We will not lose sight of what makes this region so strong – our community spirit.