Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fire, Fire

One of my earliest memories is of waking in the middle of the night, when we lived in the heart of the city, and going into the garden with my parents and seeing the ash in the air and smelling the smoke.
It was the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983 and I vividly remember the stories of people futilely trying to out-drive the fires, of a friend showing me where the fire had licked her house's back door and then jumped the house, while all her neighbours houses had burnt.
Nearly exactly five years since the last tragic fires in this region, the fires are back. After a week of sweltering heat, we knew today would be a bad one and I'm so deeply thankful that so far no lives have been lost.
On Friday my little ones and I plodded our way up to the train station to meet my Beloved returning from the city. Although it was past six, the temperature was still over thirty five degrees, our arthritic dog panted the whole way up, and I wasn't much better as I laboriously waddled, the sweat trickling down my back. When we got to the station, the station master told us that all trains had been cancelled as a fire had crossed the tracks, as well as the freeway, but buses would be bringing passengers up around the fire. After waiting half an hour for the bus to return daddy to us, my little troupe and I made our way home to wait. Luckily, my Beloved made it home safely not long after, but not before I'd checked every fire alert website I could find.
Yesterday, going to the beach, we saw the plumes of smoke in the distance. Today, early thoughts of going to the beach to escape the heat were soon relinquished as we realised the fire danger. Thankfully we stayed put, as the road to the shore developed fires all along it, thought to be deliberately lit.
There are fires all around the outskirts of our town, one within a ten minute walk of us, and nearly all the roads out of town have been cut off.
While the ridiculous heat of the early morning has been replaced by a welcome cool, the winds are still strong and everything is hazy with smoke. The sky that yesterday was high and blue was today paper white and smoke hung thick as fog in the air. We watched as ashes flew into our garden, and had the car packed and ready to go by noon.
It still surprises me how little of all our stuff we chose to pack.
If it had been possible to get to Melbourne we would have gone without a second thought, but with those roads blocked, our place seems as safe as any. But we have our phones close, waiting in case of any evacuation text. We're checking the fire updates every five minutes. (Okay, maybe every two minutes. I do not foresee much sleep tonight.)
We're not hearing so many sirens now, not hearing or seeing so many helicopters overhead. Everything still smells of smoke.  Outside, even with the dark, the haze of smoke is clear and there's a glow in the distance that is unsettling. The light has been odd all day.
Our children slumber in a house reeking of smoke, but thankfully cool. We check and recheck the fire warnings and it seems things are getting under control. But we're thinking of, and praying for, all the people out fighting the fires, all the people manning the evacuation centres, all the people coordinating emergency efforts. We're thinking of all those people who have had to leave their homes, those whose homes have been burnt.