By Jon Donnison
Australia has been battling unseasonably bad bushfires for weeks. The flames have destroyed hundreds of homes – and have also intensified a political debate about whether there is a link with global warming.Australia’s Blue Mountains get their name from the eucalyptus trees that coat their slopes.
On a warm day the sun heats up the oils in the trees’ vibrant green leaves. As those oils evaporate into the atmosphere it gives the range a shimmering blue hue.
For much of this week though the Blue Mountains were more a shade of grey, cloaked in smoke, the air acrid and woody. And of course there is no smoke without fire.
These have been the most devastating bushfires New South Wales has seen in decades
Tens of thousands of hectares have been burned. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed – and they are still burning.
In the small community of Winmalee, an hour’s drive from Sydney, I looked on as Chris Muller stood, head in hands, in front of what was left of her house.
And what was left was pretty much nothing. A once-beautiful property looking out over the bush reduced to little more than rubble, twisted metal and ash. Many of the houses on the suburban street had suffered the same fate.
Chris’s daughter, picking through the debris, tried to cheer up her mother. “Look mum,” she shouted, holding up a few metal spoons and an old blue coffee pot.
“I guess we are all still here, that is the main thing,” Chris said, before heading off to start again from scratch.
A local sports club was transformed into a disaster welfare centre offering food and advice to those who had lost their homes.
Families could be seen poring over long to-do lists. The question was surely, where to begin?
Of course, Australians are used to the threat from bushfires. And there have been much more deadly ones than these.
More than 170 people were killed in 2009 in the “Black Saturday” fires in the state of Victoria. But this year the fires have come unusually early after unseasonably hot weather.
This year’s fires were “all part of the cycle,” Col McDonnell told me as he prepared to defend his farmhouse while thick white smoke billowed from the hillside behind him.
He said fires like this had been going on throughout the ages and that it was just part of living in the bush.
If the fire season continues as it has started, the heat of the argument over the causes is also likely to intensify.
By Jon Donnison