I live in Springwood in the Blue Mountains and we were fortunate to be just south of the horrendous fire front that ripped through on Thursday 18 October 2013 and took out more nearly 200 homes. And I am hugely grateful to brave firefighters and the community spirit that saved all the homes in our street when the fire burnt back on itself on the Friday. The loss of our back fence was an easy trade.
The thing is we were due a fire.
The last one in this patch of bush was in 2007 and the one before that 2001 and any number have been through before then. We had an especially warm winter and a warm, unusually dry and windy spring. And last summer there was an above average wet period in February that the plants used to their advantage. There is nothing exceptional in each of these events, but in combination we ended up with a heavy and highly volatile fuel load. All it needed was a spark and a strong wind. We got that last Thursday.
And on Wednesday 23rd October 2013…
All afternoon three heavy helicopters have flown over and around our house countless times. They are ferrying water to drop on the bushfire that has flared again less than a kilometer away.
Illogically the sound is terribly disconcerting.
My ears are constantly reminding my mind of a real and present danger.
Except that it was last Friday that the fire was in our yard, licking its way up the gully to devour our back fence. Dense smoke stacks dwarfed the houses on both sides of the street as tenacious fireman set back burns and hosed their way into the fire fronts saving each property one at a time.
Everyone helped each other without a thought – it was just wonderful to witness. Courage, generosity, kindness and compassion are words that feel right and yet they are not even close to explaining what it was like.
Today the same fire that nestled in the bush for days is trying to get at another street and the helicopter noise should be reassuring. After all it is the sound of human bravery and endurance, resources being thrown at a force of nature. Whilst logic keeps this thought acute the body reacts to the sound and to the smell of smoke and sets itself on high alert.
Given the option to leave for a safer place, we chose to stay at home today and defend our home should embers be blown our way.
The dustbins full of water on the deck next to me together with the garden hoses placed strategically to spray the perimeter are only mildly reassuring. Is also less brave a choice than it sounds as the prevailing wind from the south-west has sent smoke and any real danger further north.
What can it mean to have a wildfire too close to your home?
What comes to mind is how privileged I am to live in a World Heritage Wilderness.
Even more so to live in a community that so efficiently and skilfully mobilises emergency services and where people care for each other when it matters.
193 houses were lost in the neighbourhood on the Thursday the closest just a few hundred metres over the ridge so I also feel fortunate and blessed that ours was untouched.
The firefighters, many of them volunteers, were all heroic, tireless and committed. When we needed help they were right there and I thank them all.
Extra special thanks go to the crew of Arcadia 2 who protected our home.