The language we use to describe fire, Chloe Hooper points out, gives it a creaturely shape: it has flanks, tongues, fingers, a tail. It licks, it devours. Fascinated by its mythic force, we talk about taming a fire as we talk about taming a beast, but when it comes to vast tracts of bush, we can only contain it and wait for another natural force, the weather, to extinguish the flames.
On 7 February 2009, the weather in Victoria was not friendly. A high-pressure system had settled over the Tasman Sea, bringing temperatures in the mid-forties, the highest recorded since records began in 1859. Any moisture in the air had evaporated; humidity was below five per cent. After a sweltering night, the state’s residents awoke to warnings of extreme danger; all the firefighting bodies were on standby.