It’s hot and dry again. How long till there’s another fire?

It’s hot and dry again. How long till there’s another fire?

Thursday 17th October started promisingly enough. I’d been invited to record a podcast at my local library before giving a lunchtime talk about Poor me!, the book I wrote with Piers.

It was an unusually hot day for October with temperatures well into the 30s. It was also very windy. By the time I parked my car, the wind was strong enough to rip the door out of my hand.

The podcast went well but, in the half hour before the start of the talk, the day took on a very different complexion.

I had heard that a bushfire was burning in Lithgow, on the other side of the Blue Mountains from where I live, but that didn’t explain the number of sirens screaming from the nearby highway or the continuous thrumming of helicopters, which seemed to be directly overhead. Then news broke of a fire in Springwood, barely 8 kilometres up the road.

The talk ended up being more of an intimate chat, though I was amazed that anyone turned up at all. But the sounds of the sirens and helicopters were intensifying minute and regular iPhone checks brought news of a fire that was serious and out of control.

I’ve lived in the mountains for a number of years and the prospect of fires has worried me but I’ve never felt threatened by one before. I’ve always said I’d leave at the first whiff of danger but now I realised that I had no idea of what that whiff would look like. In the end, it took the shape of two messages on my mobile and one on the landline from the Rural Fire Service warning that my suburb was under threat.

I packed an overnight bag and a couple of things of sentimental value but, when we were in Sydney, realised my choices made no sense at all. Typically, I had my backup hard drive, netbook and everything else I needed to keep on working, but no passports or other documents. Even the clothes I had chosen were totally impractical – about 15 pairs of socks but nothing warm to wear when the temperature dropped overnight, as I knew it would. When we had to evacuate again a few days later I was a bit more organised, but even then I felt paralysed once the absolute essentials were in the car. There was still room for a couple more things but what should I take? Looking around the house at things you might never see again is a very odd experience. If you can’t save everything, how do you choose one thing over another? In the end, I gave up trying to decide.

The drive was like a journey into hell, blackening skies tinged with red and, everywhere, the smell of relentless destruction.

We were lucky in having friends who made us welcome, dog and all, in a place we felt comfortable and safe. We were also lucky in that nothing we owned was damaged. Just up the road, 197 homes were burned to the ground. Thousands of hectares of eucalyptus forest were destroyed and I can’t bear to think about the suffering caused to wildlife.

And it wasn’t even summer.

One comment

  1. I am pleased to hear that you survived the experience! I was wondering how you were doing as it all sounded quite scary. And I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it yet. Hope all is going well!

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