This is a very sad time in my beloved country, Australia, when so many small town and rural communities in the State of Victoria have suffered such devastating loss from unprecedented bushfires, with a death toll estimated at over 200 and whole towns wiped out.

Australians know how quickly and ferociously these fires can move, but there has not been anything like this in living memory.

Our hearts go out to all those who have suffered loss of loved ones, serious injuries, their homes and maybe their livelihoods.

We salute the brave men and women of the Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA), career firies and volunteers alike, who have fought the fires to the utmost of their strength and, for a number of them, have had the heartbreaking experiences of finding burnt out cars and homes with men, women and children incinerated in them.

In the coming weeks there will no doubt be various opportunities arising for people and organisations to help.

Rax Lakhani has put together a list of social media links – Twitter (#bushfires), Facebook etc – and some commentary, in his post featured on Social Media Today.

Right now, I see from Twitter that many people are donating money via the Australian Red Cross. The message on the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Fund donations appeal site tells the story:

The 2009 Victorian bushfire Fund to assist individuals and communities affected by devastating bushfires in Victoria has been launched by the Premier John Brumby in partnership with Red Cross and the Federal Government. A number of corporate organisations including NAB, ANZ, CBA and Wesfarmers have also contributed to the fund.

As at 4:30pm on the 9th February, the Fund had received $6.8 million from over 38,000 people through the website and phone, with governments including the Victorian Government and Federal Government and corporates pledging additional sums. Donations are still continuing to flow in.

An independent panel made up of community leaders will oversee the appeal Fund’s operation. Criteria for assistance will include the extent of the hardship covered and the extent to which a person’s livelihood has been impacted.

For international readers wanting to get a sense of what has happened and regular updates, we recommend the ongoing bushfire coverate by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC): the ABC is a government-supported body and its radio and television coverage are advertisement-free. For online coverage from the print media I would be looking to Melbourne, Victoria’s The Age newspaper – still the preeminent journal of record for Victoria (although some might say but a shadow of its former self).

This is a time of great loss for our country. We are heartened by signs that governments, business and the community are pulling together on this one, to help the helpless and comfort the injured and bereaved.

Photo courtesy iamagloworm via Flickr – CC

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