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Resilience amid the ashes

Nick Bryant | 13:59 UK time, Monday, 9 February 2009

Burnt out homesThe testimony of the survivors speaks of the awfulness of this tragedy.

People who managed to escape down roads lined with burning gum trees, whose cars caught on fire in the furnace-like heat. People who thought they had hours to leave their homes, when in fact they had minutes. One man said he hardly had time to react let alone move, so fast were the advancing walls of flames. Another siphoned off the water from the radiator of his vehicle as he tried to save the life of a neighbour who'd been set alight.

At a local relief centre there are many people not only looking for aid but for relatives that are missing. For many, the only possessions they have left are the clothes they are standing in. One distraught woman said she was taking things not day by day, but hour by hour.

Often they want to go back to see what's left of their homes, but in many instances the police are stopping them. The roads going into towns like Kinglake have been blocked by police because they are viewed not just as disaster zones but as crime scenes.

Some people have managed to return. In the hills above Wandago where dream homes once dotted the beautiful landscape, I met John Pyle, who was surveying what was left of his home. He'd lived there for thirty years, raised four children. But all that was left were cindery and ashen remains. His coin collection. The photographs of his children. His wife's jewellery. But his resilience was extraordinary. He would rebuild on the same spot, and he invited us to come back in a year's time to visit his new home.

Just down the road, there was another burnt out home, with cinders lying on the surface of the swimming pool and a burnt out four-by-four in the driveway. Next to it was a flagpole, up which someone had hoisted the Australian flag, which was flying at half mast.

The following report is from the Today programme this morning:

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  • 1. At 3:01pm on 09 Feb 2009, NomadsUsR wrote:

    The wife and I are saddened to the core.....what else can be said at this time.
    We both shed tears and while wanting to help feel helpless.

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  • 2. At 3:13pm on 09 Feb 2009, drmattprescott wrote:

    I've just heard that someone I used to work with has been killed by these bushfires, along with most of his family, and I would like to send my sincerest condelences to everyone that has been affected by this terrible disaster.

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  • 3. At 6:21pm on 09 Feb 2009, Berushka wrote:

    Tragic and heartwrenching. The callous perpretators should have all their assets confiscated, their families should donate their entire l;ifes earnings to the victims and the villains should not be sentenced to a life of luxury in prison, they should be executed immediately. They have forfeited their right to be part of the human race and deserve to die. These acts of murder are beyond comprehension.

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  • 4. At 6:40pm on 09 Feb 2009, paulcanning wrote:

    Fantastic reporting Nick.

    For anyone who thinks Aussies weren't ready see the ABC's 7:30 Report

    Story after story of people who were ready but were overwhelmed. Not a King Tide but a Tsunami

    This was unprecedented. The old rules no longer apply.

    And Aussies aren't shy of pointing to climate change (Tim Blair exempted)

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  • 5. At 01:33am on 10 Feb 2009, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    Nick Bryant:
    A fine piece of fair reporting during a time of difficult...And, the people of Australia...The Resilience will return to the citizens....

    ~Dennis Junior~

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  • 6. At 04:39am on 10 Feb 2009, rosyinoz wrote:

    Nick, as the BBC man on the spot, you have told the world of our pain. What those on the fireground have suffered is awful. The rest of us are shocked and upset, still trying to comprehend what has happened, and the deaths are still mounting, and the fires are still burning. As life goes on, sort of, in the rest of the country, the local supermarket had a container at every till for donations to the Australian Red Cross Fire Appeal, every cent raised will go to the victims, and the fund has already raised a huge amount, but no amount of money can ever be enough. Australians have huge hearts, I love that about this country, Australian mateship will be what helps get us through. We care about each other.

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  • 7. At 04:40am on 10 Feb 2009, Bob_Cains wrote:

    Well said Nick.

    The enormity of this tragedy is truly harrowing. Each of the stories from the people involved brings the humanity of the disaster home to us all. Condolences to all those effected by the Victoria bush fires.

    Bob Cains

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  • 8. At 05:49am on 10 Feb 2009, lotsalaughter wrote:

    Hey Nick

    PLEASE could you ensure that there is a donation website address clearly showing during each of your reports...

    I believe it would really help

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  • 9. At 07:09am on 10 Feb 2009, Polynya wrote:

    I wish to express my sincere thanks to you and the BBC for your excellent coverage of the devastation in Australia. Your coverage has been full of practical information but has also been sensitive to the distress caused by the emergency. I am an expatriate Australian who's family has been affected by the fires. Your articles and multimedia have helped me understand the magnitude of what my own family has faced in evading the fires. Just as importantly, you have clearly comprehended the huge wound left in the Australian psyche by Black Saturday like no other media organization outside of Australia. It helps me appreciate the fondness I feel for Britain as our friends through thick and thin.

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  • 10. At 2:05pm on 10 Feb 2009, sud0hnim wrote:

    Hi Nick

    I have been watching the reporting since Saturday. It's truly harrowing and painful to watch fellow human beings enduring such pain and tragedy. I watched a BBC documentary some time ago, about the possibility of the perfect fire storm... it was about just this scenario occurring. Most of the film was based on the words and work of the bush fire experts. The Aussies were ready... they just had no idea how bad it would be. I don't think anyone knew that. Now all we can do is to help our Australian friends in their time of need.


    The appeal funds are not just administered by the red cross, they are headed by local community leaders telling them what they need. So the money is going to the right place. Please, ask your readers to give what they can and help the Red Cross rebuild the local communities.

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  • 11. At 2:06pm on 10 Feb 2009, budgiesmuggler wrote:

    Here is the donation site to the Australian Red Cross for the bushfires:

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  • 12. At 7:06pm on 10 Feb 2009, NomadsUsR wrote:

    Nick I wish to concur with other posters who have heaped praise upon you for your reporting of this tragedy. Sometimes the English language has not enough words to adequately convey the enormity of this event.

    In all the coming years as a juorno I hope you never have to report a similar or even a worse event.

    This is probably the BIGONE for you Nick.

    There will be many more stories to come as people rebuild their lives. This will take years and sadly some may not make it.

    I cannot imagine how one could cope with after a lifetime of sweat and toil having nothing but the clothes on ones back. Add to this the loss of life of friends and family is just beyond comprehension.

    Look forward to more reporting from you Nick in the years to come.

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  • 13. At 10:23pm on 10 Feb 2009, Bishop Hill wrote:


    I've had an interesting comment on my site about some of the contributory factors to the severity of the fires. It appears that some local governments forced residents to allow trees to grow near houses and forbade them from removing flammable material.

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  • 14. At 10:55pm on 10 Feb 2009, heatherfizz wrote:

    Thank you for covering this so well.

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  • 15. At 1:09pm on 11 Feb 2009, TasInParis wrote:

    Hello Nick,

    I hope you get a chance to return to the burnt out bush after the spring rains in September (if they come). You'll see the gum trees bounce back. It is quite amazing, They are covered with new growth sprouting directly from the trunks, and major limbs.

    An excellent metaphor for resilience of the land and people and a hopeful sign

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  • 16. At 5:13pm on 11 Feb 2009, paulcanning wrote:

    Victoria police are now saying all but one of the fires weren't caused by arson

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  • 17. At 5:20pm on 11 Feb 2009, paulcanning wrote:

    No, it was the greenies!

    And the arguments do make sense.

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  • 18. At 00:16am on 13 Feb 2009, malcolm43 wrote:

    If there was no lightning at the time, and arson is ruled out, the only source of naked flame is the usual suspect....cigarettes tossed out of vehicles setting light the road verges. Can we have a smoking ban in vehicles in December to March? Not likely to happen. So lets make cigarettes in fireproof containers or only pipes allowed!!

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