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Dien Rice
February 8, 2009, 03:10 PM
I thought I'd write a note about the fires here in Australia, which you may have heard about in the news. In terms of fatalities they are the worst fires in Australia's history.

The fires are in Victoria, the state I live in. However, most of the fires are (were) out in the countryside. There were a couple of small fires in the city of Melbourne. Of the two city areas that had some fire damage, one is about 15 minutes drive away from me (Narre Warren South), and burned down 7 houses, last I saw. The other city-area fire is about 20 minutes drive away from me (Upper Ferntree Gully), and didn't burn down any houses that I know of. I think both those fires are out now, and the worst of the fires is over, thankfully. However, the main fires that have taken lives are the several fires out in the countryside. Overall, more than 700 homes were lost, and last I saw 93 people had lost their lives, though the final count is expected to be higher.

On Saturday, we had the hottest day in our recorded history - the temperature reached 46.4 degrees C, or around 115 degrees F. Let me tell ya, it was hot!

In addition to that were some strong winds... Sometimes we get hot winds, blowing to the city from the inland Australian desert.

Soon after the hot weather ended, we had some lightning. In addition, some of the fires are believed to have been deliberately lit by arsonists.

I'm sure all these contributed to the ignition and spreading of the fires...

Also, many native Australian trees are eucalypts. They're designed - believe it or not - to catch fire. The trees are full of highly flammable eucalyptus oil. After a fire is when many eucalyptus trees release their seeds. That's why Australian fires tend to be pretty bad (and there have been eucalyptus-based fires in California too, since eucalypts were introduced to California from Australia in the 19th century for timber).

Temperatures are much better here now - on Sunday, we've had a maximum temperature of 24 degrees C, around 75 degrees F. (We can get dramatic changes in temperature here depending on wind direction. If the wind blows from the north, it blows in from the hot desert, while if the wind blows from the south, it's a cool ocean breeze.)

I want to express gratitude to the fire fighters, who have had a difficult and very dangerous job to do.

My thoughts go out to all the families who lost their loved ones...

- Dien

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