We are facing a crippling season. Even the locals are saying things like ‘I’ve never seen it turn so bad so quickly’. Though we didn’t have such a bad year last year, the summer rains didn’t come. Instead the weather sent blazing heats and a relentless dry wind which succeeded in sucking the moisture out of the dams and turning the grass to dust.
Chris and I thought we weren’t doing too badly … emotionally that is. We accepted we couldn’t control the weather and had made some concrete decisions on a drought management plan, which we had implemented. But something happened which revealed the thin veneer of my apparent ‘coping emotionally’.
Just before lunch a couple of weeks ago, we got a call from our neighbour asking if we were burning off. Yeah, sure, in these conditions … NOT! Chris went up to investigate thinking it would be something minor, probably triggered by a passing cigarette butt. While he was gone, two more phone calls came in from two different neighbours advising they were gearing up to come and help. This was serious.
So came crashing down my thin veneer, tears flowed. How ridiculous, I know, but that is what happened. Chris came back to put together our firefighting kit – a water tank (which had to be filled), a fire pump and hose. I joined him and several neighbours to begin fighting and we inched our way to the front of the blaze. I picked up some branches and started whacking the burning grass line. Within 15-20 minutes I’d managed to sustain a nasty burn on my hand taking off several layers of skin! Can you believe it? Great Fire Fighter I make!
I’d also carefully selected a safety shirt (one of those fluro ones). I’d checked the label but it just quoted a number of ISO standards. Big mistake. The first ember melted a hole in the sleeve, blistering the skin beneath. Great Fire Fighter I make!
After that, I decided it was wiser to work with the hoses. It wasn’t going too badly and a few hours in we were winning. That was until a nasty blustery north-westerly pumped up the whole situation. I was watching a stack burning at the time, mesmerised by the raging flames rising with frightening intensity. I’d never seen a fireball before, but I did that day. The fire, well fueled by an old timber stack and a raging wind, turned manic in seconds. The flames took on a life of their own, became their own entity seemingly devoid of the fuel, the wind catching up balls of intense heat and flame, throwing them metres away where new breakouts appeared. Oh my!
More reinforcements were called in. Within a short space of time it jumped the road into Inverary Station and jumped the fence into Fox Gully where it raced away terrifyingly quickly across David Yates’ grazing land, taking out kilometres of boundary fence.
Fortunately, due to the support and good work of all and a blessed drop in the wind, we halted the progress later that day. About 9 pm we felt it was safe to go home, the cooler night air helping to calm things. But that was when it struck me how such a crisis draws a community together like no other. We all live remotely and don’t see each other from day to day. But that day, we had worked hard together with a shared purpose, fought a battle, thwarted a crisis. No one seemed eager to leave (though no doubt the dozen stubbies I had thrown in the car on an urgent trip to the house may have helped). Maybe I’m not such a hopeless Fire Fighter after all?
Mick’s wife Deb turned up with a few more beers and some sausages and mashed potato. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We had a little party in the street!
Eventually we broke camp and went home with promises to return early in the morning.
The fire was fairly well-behaved the next day, inhibited by the fire fighters constantly dousing any new breakouts. In the late afternoon the wind turned to an easterly which, while a little worrying, turned the fire back onto itself. It spread no further and rain the following day put it out for good.
I was left awed by the support of those around me, relieved it was over and equipped with better skills for next time … which I hope never comes.
The battle with the season continues but I’ve managed to stop the tears, at least for now.