A Bushfire At My Doorstep
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 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.
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)
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".
More Australian Bushfire Hubs
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