Fire season

2008-07-14 00:00

Almost a year to the day after the catastrophic fire storms that devastated the midlands last winter, government aid for those who suffered losses is ready to be paid out. Several points arise. First, a year seems an inordinately long time for aid to reach the victims of a disaster of such magnitude. It may be granted that in nature some things regenerate with remarkable speed, so that the assessment of truly long-term damage may itself be a long process. On the other hand, for many people, especially those left homeless or who were already poor and lacked the resources to compensate for their losses themselves, these have been 12 long months of severe hardship. It might be thought that in the distribution of aid to suffering people, a caring government could move itself a little more quickly.

The realisation that the anniversary has come brings the reminder that the annual fire season is also at hand. Fortunately last year’s extreme conditions have not been repeated — the unusual late summer dryness that turned the midlands into a tinderbox that exploded in the unusually fierce gales — but any sense of greater security this winter would be false. The burning of firebreaks is now of the highest priority and neighbourly co-operation is needed to create the patchwork of burnt areas that can contain unintended fires.

The inevitability of those outbreaks, so often sparked by carelessness, is a reason for everyone, not least people passing through rural areas, to be both vigilant and careful. If nothing else, the time lapse in the distribution of aid is an indicator of how difficult it is to repair the damage once a fire gets out of control.

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