The biggest bushfire threat is morons
AUTUMN has finally poked its head around the corner in Victoria, after a summer that long outstayed its welcome.
But pockets of Australia are still burning as a knife's edge fire season draws to a close.
It was a season that saw unusual heat lasting long after it should have dissipated, low rainfall for weeks on end and plenty of days of hot, gusty winds.
In short, perfect bushfire conditions.
This year's worst bushfire culminated in the devastating loss of property in the fires at Tathra in NSW, but miraculously there was no loss of life.
Could it be that the horrifying Black Saturday bushfires which killed 173 people in Victoria in 2009 have taught us the importance of having a plan, of life being more important than replaceable property and of not lighting bloody fires on total fire ban days?
Well, the answer to that final point is apparently: no, it hasn't.
The biggest bushfire threat has always been, and remains, morons.
My stepson, his girlfriend and two mates encountered a pack of them in Victoria's Otways recently.
The first sign there were idiots afoot was the loud music blaring from their cars in what is meant to be a peaceful national park camping spot deep in the forest.
The kind of arrogance that assumes everyone else wants their weekend to be soundtracked by a stranger's questionable musical choices is always a worrying portent, but a polite request for the music to be turned down met with surprisingly little resistance and it seemed that harmony could be achieved.
The group - consisting of several adults and some primary school aged kids, not a bunch of teens, note - left late in the afternoon, presumably to go to the pub in the nearest town.
It was when they returned, seemingly drunk, that their behaviour went from mildly anti-social to potentially lethal.
On a weekend of total fire ban in Victoria, where the authorities had been at pains to spread the message that a combination of hot, gusty winds and weeks on end with no rain would make the forest a powder keg in the event of a spark, these rolled gold dimwits decided a bonfire would be a good idea.
Never mind that they were risking the lives of everyone camping near them, and anyone living in the area, the fact that the safety of their own kids wasn't enough to make them use their brains is nothing short of astonishing.
My stepson and one of his mates went over to beg them to put the fire out. Sparks were flying everywhere, buffeted by the high winds, and reluctant as they were to provoke people with sub-optimal intelligence, they genuinely, hand-on-heart feared for their lives. If the group had refused their next step was to pack up and leave.
One of the little girls spoke up saying "He's right, we shouldn't have a fire, remember what happened on Black Saturday?"
When a primary school child has a more sophisticated understanding of right and wrong and a wider streak of common sense than the adults who are meant to be caring for her, it may be time for those adults to do some self-assessment.
There's a worrying capacity in some Australians to decry the nanny state to the point of absurdity. They simply can't handle being told what to do, and their over-inflated sense of personal rights trumps doing the right thing.
The chief idiot's mates were seemingly persuaded by the little girl's argument, and agreed the fire should be extinguished, whereupon a fist fight broke out among them, with the king of the idiots arguing, in essence, that nobody had the right to infringe on his freedom to risk the immolation of everyone around him.
If our kids had thought to write down the numberplates you wouldn't have seen me for dust in my rush to report them. I did, one year, receive a Christmas card from the EPA for my diligence in reporting people who tossed cigarettes from their car windows, so clearly being called a dobber holds no fear for me.
Unfortunately the fact a punch-on started made them nervous to even surreptitiously take one down.
A couple of weeks later, I'm still livid that these scumbags put my kid and his mates' lives at risk.
I can see the value in getting along despite differing sports teams, values and opinions, but I draw the line when some low-life refuses to put the community's right to be safe above their deranged sense of personal freedom.
Claire Sutherland is acting RendezView editor.