angry brown stain of bushfire smoke spread over the horizon. Even though
the nearest fire was up in Wollemi you could smell it in Werrong Lane
when I went down to the Brushtail Café for breakfast.
was scanning the papers when the mobile rang. It was Ted from the Rural
Fire Service headquarters at Rosehill.
like you on standby for arson investigations. Were really short
of people with investigative skills and all the cops are busy on the
Great Crusade Against Terrorism.
too, I told him, but arson work sounded more interesting than meaningless
contract surveillance for the police. I was heartily sick of hanging
out in Lebanese coffee shops on the off chance that a mullah who once
met a man who said he knew Osama bin Laden back in the 80s wandered
in and ordered a falafel and a Coke.
you get yourself out here pronto? Ted asked Well have
to kit you up with some fire gear. We dont let anybody within
coo-ee of the fireline without the full kit these days.
Been ages since Ive been on the line. I lost my last kit years
ago, and itd look out of date by now.
finished breakfast, packed the Nikon and the PowerBook, said goodbye
to Joadja (who was expecting to get called out herself at any moment),
and caught a cab.
Rosehill, Ted ratted through the storeroom and assembled a pile of used
gear: Probane treated jacket and pants, fire-rated boots, a battered
helmet, gloves, water bottles and belt. The yellow jacket and pants
were stained with enough charcoal to give me a bit of cred if I had
to go out on the fireline.
found me a desk and a phone and slapped down some maps and a pile of
recent situation reports. I started flicking through them, looking for
suspicious ignition points, tell-tale patterns or odd concidences.
young journalist hovered around, waiting for Phil Koperburg or maybe
John Winter and trying to make sense of the melee working around her.
your role in the great scheme of things, Mr Possum She asked.
a road lightning expert.
are three types of lightning: sheet lightning, fork lightning and road
lightning, I replied, quoting the old fireys adage.
of bushfires are started by lightning. Sheet lightening doesnt
strike the earth so it doesnt cause fires. Forked lightening starts
lots of fires at once when a dry thunderstorm passes by, but road lightning
is the one that always starts along the edge of a road, usually with
multiple ignition points.
got it. Its a big problem. All those fire trails and old logging
roads out there are a double-edged sword. They help us get in to wildfires
and, if theyre in the right places, we can use them as firebreaks,
but they also help loonies on trail bikes and even 4WDs get into right
out into the back country to light fires.
you stop them?
difficult, unless you catch them red-handed, I said. A cunning
arsonist on a fast bike can light a dozen fires and be back home jerking
off while he watches the blaze on the evening news a couple of hours
later. And then horror of horrors our psychopath might
even be a member of the local fire brigade, so hes got real inside
knowledge. The enemy within, as we say.
is. Personally I reckon we could do more. Its like this: The knowledgeable
arsonist reads the weather reports and watches the news and he knows
when its going to be a bad fire day. He knows when to strike for
we know those days too, so we know when to be on the lookout. As for
the places the arsonist can strike, well thats more difficult
to narrow down: after all, its a big country. But we can make
some shrewd predictions. We can close some key roads, forests and parks
and do ground and air patrols.
its a bit like the war on terror.
but Im only looking for a dozen half-bright psychopaths that nobody
admires. Out there in the real world there are hundreds of millions
of angry dispossessed people who hate the Yanks and reckon bin Laden
and his boys are bona fide heroes.