Living in Australia, where we have the extremes of weather and climate, bushfires are a part of many peoples experiences.
I grew up in an area that was bushfire prone. We experienced many major bushfires that burnt down homes and sadly took lives of those that were fighting them or were not able to be safe.
This was the first bushfire I experienced it occurred during early December, which in itself is odd as it is mainly mid summer that the most critical bushfires occur. I was 9 years and it was a school day so I was at our local primary school, my two brothers were at the local high school that was 15 kms away.
When we got the order to evacuate, we were allowed to walk home (I shudder at this, as today 9 year olds would not be allowed to walk home in a critical bushfire). When I returned home I was met by my father who was wearing a long sleeved shirt ( very odd for such a hot and windy day) and a mask made from a hankie (yes men carried them in those days), he was home not at work, so I began to understand we might have devastating time. He told me to go inside and pack some belongings because I was going to be evacuated with my mother.
I saw the look of panic in their faces, so I ran into my room and packed my school ‘globite’ school case quickly. My thoughts turned to what I needed. Being 9 years the most important things were my barbie dolls, their clothes and accessories. I must have put my pyjamas in, as when we I opened it at our friends house, which was where we went for safety, I remember my mother scolding me for not packing clothes.
Where were my brothers? They were also allowed to walk home, picture my parents distress when they found that the road had been closed because cars and tankers were exploding on the only road leading to our town. The High School students, including my brothers, that lived in our town were told to walk up the train tracks to get home. Again I shudder at the duty of care (or lack of it at this time).
When my brothers eventually made it home, they assisted my father in preparing the house, filling drains with water, removing anything flammable away, closing the doors/windows so embers could not get inside.
I remember the sky, and words cannot describe it’s colour. Burning eucalyptus trees give off a very distinctive dark menacing smoke plume. The fire gives a orange surreal glow. The smell of burning was frightening. The sound of the roaring wind and fire as it moves is sound you will never forget.
I remember it was when the paint on our house began to blister and bubble that my father gave the order for my mother and I to go to friend’s house. I went with my barbie dolls safe and sound.
Eight years later, it happened again. This time I was more understanding of what was important, I helped Mum pack Passports, deeds to the house, Bank books, Official documents, photos, and our Cruise tickets …
We were lucky that on both occasions the fire missed our home and we were all safe, people in our neighbouring streets were not.
Fires have again raged through Australia this summer… we are blessed with dedicated volunteers that assist during this time. In New South Wales (NSW) they are in groups called the Rural Fire Service. The other wonderful services during a time of crisis are the NSW Fire and Rescue, the NSW police and other emergency services.