I have no experience of such fires, but I can imagine that they can scorch the faces of people standing hundreds of feet away. If I had been there, I would have been worried that the wooden jetty would have caught fire as well.
But apart from the sheer human drama, there’s much more to be found in these pictures. I used Google maps to find Dunalley, and it was on the south coast of Tasmania. And I found the jetty with the left turn at the end on the north side of Blackman bay, just east of Dunalley. It’s amazing to be able to do this.
And using the scale on the map I estimated its length as about 130 feet. And assuming 10-15 feet between the piers along the jetty, they’re standing about 100 feet from the shore. Perhaps they could go no further because it was too deep. But they’re clearly feeling the heat, turning their faces away from the fire. Yet neither their hair nor their clothes have been scorched.
The dog seems to be not too bothered, and disinclined to join them in the water.
And while all three girls seem quite calm and collected, particularly the one with sunglasses, both the boys seem rather distressed.
But the coolest head of all is the one you can’t see: the grandfather who’s taking these snaps. I mean, you really have to have a very cool head to take photos on an occasion like that. And get everyone to face the camera while you’re doing so. I’d guess that the grandfather is an old soldier, and he’d been through fire and brimstone many times. And also taking photos is good psychology: it tells the children that, although they may be very frightened, he is not.
It raises the question of what they’re doing there. Couldn’t they have sheltered anywhere else? There seems to have been a lot of open ground nearby. Or was it that this was a designated place to head for in the event of a forest fire? Perhaps the old soldier had figured it all out years before, mapping out lines of retreat. He even knew what to take with him: a mobile phone with a camera, and a large bottle of Mango juice. They carried it in a couple of black bags.
The fire raged for 3 hours, according to the grandfather, speaking on video. They could only breathe the air just above the water.
And where were Mum and Dad? At a funeral, apparently.
The children’s mother, Bonnie Walker, told the network she had left the children with their grandparents to attend a funeral.
At around 3:30 p.m., she got word that her parents had been evacuated as fires raced across their town.
“So I braced myself to lose my children and my parents,” she told the network.
The fires eventually destroyed 90 homes in Dunalley.
As far as I can judge, there can’t be very much more than 90 homes in Dunalley. Pretty much the whole town must’ve burned down.
No deaths have been reported, but around 100 people were unaccounted for in Dunalley.
All of this particular family survived. I hope the dog survived too.
The other noteworthy thing is that, while many professional mainstream media outlets are carrying the photos, the photographer is an amateur, and it’s another example of how we’re all becoming reporters. And who knows, maybe the photos were first posted on Facebook or somewhere. Or they could easily have been. We now have our own news networks as well. About the only thing that the mainstream media can do better is to get the story to many more people much more quickly.
Who defines what’s “news”? There’s all sorts of things that I’m not interested in, and don’t want to know. Most sport, for example. Most celebrity gossip. Anything put out by healthist zealots. Most local news, except my street and town.
I’m beginning to wonder if, in another few years, we’ll all have our own tailored news profile of stuff we’re interested in, and when we turn on the “news”, we’ll be updated on stuff we’re interested in, with maybe something else thrown in for luck. Like “By the way, World War 3 broke out this morning.” And it won’t come via the mainstream media, which will have almost completely vanished. It’ll be news that’s propagating across the internet from grandads taking photos.
Anyway of course a Guardian commenter was quick to link Dunalley to global warming:
Harrowing images. Yet another stark reminder of the realities facing a warming planet.
Others agreed. By now somebody else has probably blamed a smoker for starting the bushfire in the first place.