A Bushfire At My Doorstep

Smoke?

I looked outside my bedroom window on Sunday afternoon. It was January 3, 2010. A massive smoke cloud was coming up from a block below ours further down the hill. I couldn't see the flames, but there was a lot of smoke. Mainly white, but there started to be a greyish section of smoke as well. It was about 39 degrees celcius outside.

Within minutes, my family had gathered around to look out the window. It was at this stage that we made the decision to lock up and get the hell out of there. There wasn't enough time to grab a lot of things at all. I personally just grabbed a suitcase and threw in a couple of shirts, underwear, socks and, in the middle of it all, decided that my phone charger was probably the thing I'd need the most to keep in touch with everyone. No photos. No books. No luxury items. I simply put on some clothes, grabbed the stuff and we were out the door.

Get out! Now!

When I got outside, I took the photo you see above with my phone. This is the start of the fire as seen from outside our home. It appeared to be in one of the blocks slightly further down the hill, but too close to even consider staying at home. Looking at the photo, you can see that we have a fire break of approximately 50m all around our home. Just the week before there was a bushfire in the rural town of Toodyay which resulted in 38 homes destroyed but thankfully no lives lost. The previous year, Australia had its worst bushfire disaster ever in Victoria. Staying at home was out of the question.

Watching from a distance, praying
Watching from a distance, praying

Watching The Fire From A Distance

We all got in our cars and left the house in convoy. We couldn't go down the hill due to the fire (by this stage, and we were early, the fire had already crossed the rode and driving through it was not an option). We drove up the hill and left through a second route, previously a dirt road which had been recently sealed.

By the time we made it back around to the bottom of our hill, police had already arrived on the scene directing traffic. The road up the hill was now closed. Cars lined the sides of the connecting road and watched the fire burn near their homes.

By this stage we had not yet received a text message from the authorities warning us about the fire. Since the devasting Victoria fires measures were put in place that everyone who had a registered mobile phone to a fixed address in the area would be notified in the emergency State Alert System. By the time we did receive it, I think we'd decided to have dinner and see a movie to pass the time. In their defence, authorities stated today that they only send a text if it is a life threatening emergency situation (or something ridiculous like that). In my opinion, it was too late. We'd only received a call from our neighbourhood watchman just before we left the house advising that it was progressing towards this likely action.

It was a raging and fast moving fire by night
It was a raging and fast moving fire by night

Returning After Sunset

After coming back from watching Old Dogs in the cinema to waste a few hours, the fire was raging. It was still out of control and unpredictable. It moved at a rapid pace before our eyes, darting from one point on the hill to the next in a short period of time. The alert on the authority website advised that spot fires were starting up to 1km ahead of the fire, due to strong winds. This wasn't helping. I couldn't see us going back home that night.

We drove across to the fire station nearby for information. They had set up a meeting place at the local State Equestrian Center where people could also bring their horses for safety. A few people stayed the night there if they had nowhere else to go. We ended up going to my aunt's place at one o'clock in the morning and just sleeping on the couch. Mind you, we didn't get much sleep that night and had to get up to attend a community meeting early the next morning for an update.

Seven News Footage (see how close it got)

Salvation Army

The next morning we arrived at the Equestrian Center for a meeting held by police, fire incident controllers and the local government. We were given excellent news that no houses were lost, only a few wooden sheds and fences. They were also on track for reopening the roads and allowing residents back into their properties by 9am that morning.

I need to mention the efforts of the Salvation Army at this point. I am a Salvos Partner, which means I make regular donations to this charity. It automatically leaves my bank account each month. That day, the Salvos came to my aid and to the aid of everyone in my community. There were volunteers handing out water bottles and making tea/coffee for the affected people at the center. They were doing this with a smile. I was grateful of their efforts during our mini crisis, which is big in a way, but nowhere near as bad as others have had it.

No damage was done to our property even though the fire came right up to the border. We got lucky. Very lucky. There were some flare ups again this morning due to the heat but the fire trucks are still patrolling the area to be safe.

At the time of writing there is still a "watch and act" bushfire alert for our area. Hopefully in the coming days we will be given the "all clear".

God Bless the Salvos
God Bless the Salvos

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Comments 13 comments

dohn121 profile image

dohn121 6 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

For you to leave and escape unscathed was certainly lucky on your part! Due to the fact that your house was untouched was also a small miracle. Thanks for sharing this, Marco. What a harrowing experience!


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 6 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

Holy toledo! That was a close call. Imagine what could have happened (well, I'm sure you have.) What a relief to know that you and your family and your abode are doing well. Did anyone else mention anything about not getting a text message until it was "too late"? How would they know if it would not have turned out to be a life or death situation? They got lucky there. I'd raise the issue though. I know the great feeling you feel that the organization you donate to is a worthwhile one, and to know it first hand now.


marcofratelli profile image

marcofratelli 6 years ago from Australia Author

Thanks Dohn. It was a miracle. We're still on a bushfire "watch and act" alert meaning we need to be ready to leave again if fires flare up. The weather this week is a little bit cooler which helps a little bit.

Holy Toledo indeed! Thanks Frieda :) The fact that the text message was late was on the news last night actually. I've added a link to the news website above also. I'm considering upping my donations now if I can, the Salvos are there in all sorts of emergencies.


hypnodude profile image

hypnodude 6 years ago from Italy

Maybe you've been lucky to see the smoke in time, but you've been wise to put a fire break all around your house. Great hub Marco, very good to read, not to experience though.

I'm happy everything has gone well.


agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 6 years ago from Australia

G'day Marco , I hope everything has settled down over your way ?

Over here in Vic we are just warming up, 39 C today ! But things are heating up and a forecast of 41C on Tuesday is not looking too good for us.

We have not got the early warning system working properly here either. Bloody beaurocracy , the inquiry on the Black Saturday is still carrying on! and the prediction is that this seasons fires have the potential to be worse than Black Saturday!

You did the right thing by getting out early, I hope this is one lesson learned from our fires!


marcofratelli profile image

marcofratelli 6 years ago from Australia Author

@hypnodude Cheers mate, there was a lot of luck involved i think. Fire travels very fast up a hill...

@agvulpes Sounds like it's getting pretty bad over there. We were given the all clear a few days ago but looking at the forecast, the end of this coming week is going to be 37C, 37C, 35C... not looking forward to it.


Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 6 years ago from Northam Western Australia

Marco, I am very glad you are one of the too few people who put a big firebreak around your home.

Why do people live with the humongous trees growing right up to and over there homes.

I cannot believe they do it. In my opinion they ask for trouble. If they cannot do the right thing by clearing an area around their homes it just show irresponsibility.

We have seen it so many times, when people fight to cut down trees and are fined, yet their homes are the ones saved. Bless them for doing the right thing.

It must have been very scary thats for sure. We were over then two weeks before those fires and we could not get out of there quick enough. All you could see were the cows ears above the undergrowth. Shocking. Great hub full of emotion.


marcofratelli profile image

marcofratelli 6 years ago from Australia Author

Hey Eileen, you're spot on. But you know what? Those same people living with huge trees growing right up to their homes actually live in timber houses as well! Even worse, one house has a tree growing in the middle of it! A luxury? Not in a fire!!

Fortunately this weekend of 3 consecutive days over 40'C (over 104'F) has been fire free for our area. Thanks for reading :)


bonny2010 profile image

bonny2010 6 years ago from outback queensland

Matter of Fact hub- good one-some people don't realise just how fast a firecan travel - if your gut says get out you do just that - I wish you all the best in the future hoping you stay fire safe - thanks for the read and the links for further reading


blondepoet profile image

blondepoet 6 years ago from australia

Omg you were so close to all this. Thank god you are ok.


MPG Narratives profile image

MPG Narratives 6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

How terrifying, living in inner Sydney we don't have too many problems with bush fires but a few times we have been surrounded by them and the city chokes with the smoke. Australia really is a beautiful place to live but nature can get nasty sometimes. Thanks for sharing.


LongTimeMother profile image

LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

Three years since you wrote this hub, but your message is just as valid. We have already moved into bushfire danger time with high temps and very strong winds. A shame it is so early in springtime. 40 fires burning between Sydney and the Queensland border tonight.

Like you, I would run if I get the chance. I have, however, built a fire bunker to take refuge in if we wake in the middle of the night with a fire too close.

Good luck this summer, marcofratelli. Voted up +.


marcofratelli profile image

marcofratelli 2 years ago from Australia Author

Thanks LongTimeMother. Yeah I heard about those fires raging in the east. It's not easy at all - you want nothing more than to go home back to your own bed and in your comfort zone. It's frustrating when you can't. Even worse when you discover you no longer have anything to go back to. Best of luck to you too :)

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