I'm writing to you today with such a heavy heart ... the bushfires that swept across Victoria have really left everyone here in such a complete state of shock.
As I write this, a total of 173 people have been confirmed dead, and unfortunately, this total is still expected to rise in the coming days, as fire crews and Disaster Victim Identification teams gain access to the affected areas.
The weather on Saturday was the worst I have ever seen. The heat was almost unbearable (about 47 degrees where I am), the wind was unbelievable, and the smoke in the sky was frightening. We had a grass fire in the street next to ours, but thankfully, it was contained very quickly, and spread no further.
Unfortunately, that was not the case for so many Victorian communities. I am still in a state of shock when I see the photos of places like Kinglake (about 30 minutes from me) and Marysville. Marysville is my most favourite little place - such a gorgeous little country village - and the stopping point for most of our camping and four wheel driving adventures. I feel such a deep sadness that a place so beautiful has been decimated by this fire. I cried when I saw the pictures of Marysville's main street.
Kinglake, as we knew it, doesn't really exist any more. The horrible pictures of those cars, all crashed together, and now burnt out - obviously desperately trying to escape the fires, but came to grief with the poor visibility ... that image will stay with me for a long time.
If you're wanting to see some of the pictures first hand, The Australian website has some very compelling slideshows available ... they clearly show the force of these fires, and the total destruction they caused.
And then there are pictures like this one that really bring a lump to the throat ...
The fires were coming down closer into towns that are not really that far from me. They worked down into St Andrews, Christmas Hills, and Kangaroo Ground. We have even had a couple of small grass fires in Warrandyte, which is basically just 'next door' to us. I have been on edge with the prospect of the fires getting that close to me - I can't begin to imagine how those people who have been through the thick of the fires are feeling. I think there are many people who are still numb - in a state of shock, because this all happened so damn fast.
What I am struggling with at the moment is just how helpless I feel. I'm lucky. I have my house, my car, my family and my friends all around me. I have a job to go to in the morning. So many people now have absolutely nothing.
This morning I drove to Diamond Creek, to the Community Centre, which is acting as a collection centre for donations from the community, and where those directly affected from the fire (which was really just up the road from there) can go to get assistance. It was so upsetting to look across to the next hill top as I was driving in, and all I could see was burnt forest. There's nothing there. It's all just black, and a lot of it is still smouldering. The road block at St Andrews is still there, stopping people from returning back up to their homes.
Once I got to the Community Centre, I was overwhelmed by the level of support I could see there. I had to queue in the main street, before I could even turn into the driveway, to drop off what I had to give. I gave them baby bottles, and small baby food containers, bath towels, hand towels, facewashers and manchester, and I also donated my 3-wheeler pram and toddler seat that has been sitting here waiting for me to list it on Ebay. I thought someone there might have a more urgent need for it.
I also have heaps of kids clothes that I can donate, and also some of my own, but at the moment, they are struggling to sort through everything they have received. There were piles and piles of clothes, all needing to be sorted into sizes etc. There was a small army of volunteers, directing people in the right direction to drop off their goods, and then sorting the goods once they had been delivered. I was advised to hold off taking more clothes at the moment - they need to sort through what they have before they can accept much more. People were arriving with toilet paper, shampoo, razors, toothpaste, soap .... the personal things that everyone is going to need, much more than 20 cans of tomato soup.
I was so heartened to see so many people springing into action to help their community - it brought a lump to my throat.
The more immediate need for people affected by these horrible fires right now though, once the basics of clean clothes and essential toiletries have been sorted out, is money. If anyone reading this (even my international visitors) would like to contribute, to try to ease their suffering in this desperate situation, the Red Cross has a secure online donation system happening. At last count, I think there was about $15 million that had been donated by the public, and more is still coming in. More is still going to be needed though, to help these poor people through, so if you are able to contribute, even a small amount, please consider doing so at the Red Cross website.
Now is the time for everone to pitch in to do their bit ...