More level headed minds than mine will be engaged in the lengthy analysis of the Feb 2009 Victoria Bush Fires. The scope of an enquiry will no doubt be complex but the outcome is simple - what must we do as a nation to ensure that never again will we suffer a tragedy of this magnitude?
Debate will rage on the safety of living in wooded areas and the need for greater levels of fuel reduction. Debate is already raging on whether the "if you are leaving, leave early or be prepared to defend your house" policy should stand.
A couple of things stand out. In this world of 24/7 always on constant communication, there was a major failure of communication to people in the affected areas.
According to this article in The Australian (link) the tragedy was well over before 'the authorities' were aware of the scale of the disaster on the ground.
We need to accept that the scale of this fire was so immense and its progress so swift that it was remarkable anyone in its path survived. We also need to accept that the best trained, most dedicated CFA volunteers couldn't dull the sharp thrust of this fire at its peak.
However the lack of information flowing into the "Integrated Emergency Co-ordination Centre" and thus the lack of warnings out to communities is the most telling failing in this great tragedy.
"From this moment [the identification of the Kilmore Fire], and for the rest of what would become known as Black Saturday, the bulk of the CFA's fire warnings being relayed on ABC radio trailed the reality on the ground. They came too late to alert many of the communities in its path." (The Australian)
"BY 4.30pm, it was clear inside the war room that things in the field were going wrong fast, although no one yet knew of any deaths." -- by this time many people had died in Kinglake West, Strathewen and St Andrews
"BY 5.30pm in the war room, no one knew that Kinglake or Steels Creek had been lost and that at least 37 people lay dead in those townships."
"INCREDIBLY, by 6pm, no one within the war room had yet received any confirmation that lives had been lost."
Thus the tragedy has been compounded as the central co-ordinating authority seemed to know nothing more than there were fires all around Melbourne and Gippsland and that the weather conditions were terrible.
The bungle and delayed emergency alert system would have been no help on this day if it had been triggered by this central authority. Perhaps local teams sounding the alert might have saved more lives.
Which brings me to the only other lesson which I think can be taken at this stage from this tragedy. If you are to defend your house, whether by choice or because it's too late to evacuate, you need to be prepared. I've read reports of people hoping to fight fires in shorts and t-shirts. It was horrifically hot on that day - a day when it was hell on earth - but if you are not dressed right, equipped right and prepared mentally, you really stand very little chance.
This immense tragedy is a reminder to us all - are we prepared? Do we know what to do? I confess to not being very prepared. I was far too relaxed on the couch under the airconditioner. We're not in an area which is obviously threatened but these fires have shown that no one is safe - an ember can travel 15-20 km and set your house on fire.
The Royal Commission will remind us again of what we should do and how we should be prepared. Will we listen? Will we demand real action in our communities this time?
This bush fire tragedy has eclipsed all others. The scale of loss is horrific and I am personally sickened at the thought that better communication and preparation would have saved many lives that were lost.