I read the news this morning and, like everyone else in this country, kept a morbid eye on the growing death toll. Suddenly through the course of the morning I was jolted by the realisation that one of the news items had mentioned Chum Creek Rd, an address where friends lived. Relatives of JD no less. I imagined the worst and the impact that would have on the wider family. At one point I resigned myself to another visit to Victoria for funerals. With phones to the area out, and emails not answered (I could hardly imagine them checking emails at a time like this) I was barely able to keep my mind on the job until Facebook came to the rescue and I was told by other family that they were OK.
I have no professional or semi professional experience of dealing with these sorts of fires though I did spend a day in 1980 in 45 degree (C) heat fighting a fire that threatened the town of Rochester. In that day I learned what superheated, super dry air can do when combined with eucalypt fumes and a windstorm of the fire’s own making. The fire moves quicker than you can see it move and explodes out of erupting trees and stumps and fenceposts miles from the main fire front. We were not able to outrun it in our vehicles and the best we could do is contain it at its edges. There is a theory that you can stand and survive these devils if you are properly prepared but my experience says even its peripheral demons are killers and the only safe path is that which leads away from it. No one laughs because it was far too serious but a wry smile is still invoked by those who remember – that fire was only halted, and Rochester not evacuated, because the fire hit a wall of green and lush sorghum which a farmer in the area was irrigating out of sight of his neighbours. It was out of sight because he was stealing the water. Caught out as dozens of neighbour’s vehicles and fire trucks crested the ridge which hid his crop from view he immediately pulled the siphon pipes from the ditches and we all quietly went home as an enormous Hiroshima type mushroom cloud lifted off the ground and slowly dispersed up through its own crown, raining soft black ash over the countryside as the chimney of hot air disconnected from its source. Farmhouses still burned, sheds and vehicles smoked, field silos smouldered and stock ran amok. No lives were lost. Which is a far better toll than what we have heard out of Victoria over the last few days. I wonder what news we will wake to tomorrow.
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