Last Friday afternoon, John Brumby made what seemed like a ridiculous statement, that Saturday could be "the worst day ever in the history of the state." A combination of very high temperatures, extreme winds and bushland dried out by years of drought certainly had potential for something very nasty, but did anyone really think it would happen?
There's been a lot of speculation that the reason for the staggering number of fatalities (it's currently 130 but is expected to go considerably higher) is due to the fact that people have forgotten Ash Wednesday. Not that it occurred, or that it was bad, but just how ferocious a fire can be.
I was at the beach - Airey's Inlet, where folks are rightly spooked by fire (it was almost entirely destroyed in 1983). We knew it would be hot and that fire danger was extreme, but we had the fire plan in order (kinda) and spent most of the day marvelling at the ludicrous heat.
With the radio on 774 listening for any mention of fires in the area, we were glued to the weather websites, getting excited with every notch of temperature. I put a thermometer outside to see how hot it was (if you look closely you'll see it reads 42ish).
I then stuck it in the sun to see how hot we could get it. It got to 49 and promptly died.
The birds were freaking out, just sitting under the eaves of the house making pathetic squawking noises (poor little buggers).
The air baked.
But the first sign that things were going to get bad was looking at the BOM radar to see what looked like rain bands in Gippsland. But it wasn't rain. It was smoke.
As the news rolled in that night the horror began to dawn. Whole towns were gone. Images of cars crashed and burned in the desperate, panicked attempt to get away. The stories of people dying by ones and twos, whole families, dogs, cats, old people, children. The initial estimates of 30 dead rapidly became obviously inadequate.
What became clear was that many of the people who died had made the decision to stay and fight - exactly the decision we had made earlier that day - but the ferocity of the front, the combination of heat, wind and incredibly low humidity suggests that there was nothing they could do. They died following the same advice that we thought would save us. Jesus.
The next morning we woke to an extraordinary sunrise accompanied by earth-shaking claps of thunder. Quite post-apocalyptic.
I suspect every Victorian will be affected by this, whether they know someone or have friends who have copped it, all of us will feel this for some time. It is a terribly sad thing.