The Savage Beauty Of A Bushfire Landscape
The first thing that strikes you when you walk through an area after a bushfire is just how quiet it is. There are no bird calls. The sounds of the Australian bush have vanished. There is not even the sound of wind.
There is nothing. Just the smell of residual smoke, the odour of burnt gums and eucalypts and the sight of blackness everywhere.
There are no bird calls because there are no nests left. The sounds of the Australian bush have gone because the animals have disappeared and the cicadas have not returned - simply because there is nothing for them to return to.
And why can we not hear the wind? Because there is no rustling. Can you guess why there is no rustling? Because there are no leaves. Just as beautifully crafted wood provides the sounding board for a grand piano, the leaves around us are what make us aware of the breeze we cannot see.
Several bloggers asked me last week what happens to wildlife in a fire. Those animals and birds that can move swiftly manage to escape. Those that cannot, perish in the flames or are claimed by the intense radiant heat that accompanies a bushfire.
Even some animals that escape the area in which they live are sometimes claimed by the fire because flames move so quickly and because flying embers, blown ahead of the forefront by intense winds, start new blazes that advance in several new directions.
Any bushfire zone also contains injured animals. These are now cared for swiftly, because of an initiative between the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and accredited volunteers. In the past, it was difficult for volunteers to enter a bushfire zone because of several operational reasons - not the least being their own safety - but this has changed.
Today, the trees are black carcasses. It is as if I stand alone in the forest of Hades.
The bushfire that swept through here last week claimed everything. Like all wildfires, it was capricious. It jumped a road, it burnt along a fence line, but here and there are little havens of greenery where the wind changed and blew the fury of the flames away.
These images were shot at dusk on Monday, in the Churchill National Park area of southeast Melbourne. I rang the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the police before I headed off to take these photographs. I left my contact details and vehicle registration with them.
Why? Not just for safety, as there is a far more important reason. With arson suspected as the cause for some of Victoria’s fatal bushfires, I do not want anyone to mistake me for a firebug.
My son points out a sign that has been burnt. I turn the car back and photograph the scars. Not only is the wooden support post damaged, but the fire has eaten through the metal as well.
One of the broader trees near the Churchill Park gold course has obviously been marked out for some kind of attention. Around its trunk it sports distinctive red-and-white tape bearing the letters DSE, for the Department of Sustainability and Environment.
The tape is upside down. Little details like this do not matter in a bushfire zone, where experts must assess the charred remains quickly. The red-and-white tape stands out like a beacon among the twisted black tree limbs.
The sun is setting now. There can only be hope that tomorrow will bring cooler weather and some respite for the volunteer CFA firefighters who are our guardian angels.
But here in the black landscape, there is an invisible miracle of which we cannot yet see tangible evidence. There will soon be regrowth occurring.
Strange though that might seem, it is true. The seed pods of these native Australian trees are only opened by intense heat. A bushfire is nature’s way of regeneration. In a fortnight or so, there will be a new leaf here, a tentative young branch there.
The landscape will reveal patches of growth. By mid-autumn, this place will be a concerto of colours and there will be fresh green emerging from the blackened trunks.
Tomorrow, as they say in the classics, is another day.
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