I sit in my kitchen, and the hint of smoke drifts into the house. It is 9pm, and still well over 20degrees. The winds that gusted over 80km/hr today have subsided, with only the occasional reprieve of cool breeze – bringing the eerie smoke scent with it.
With 95 fires currently burning in NSW, and 34 listed as out of control, the fire service has called it the worst conditions in over a decade. They also said that if they lost only 100 homes in the state today, that it would be a victory. It is a very humbling and sobering experience.
There is currently one very large, and out of control fire near us. It caused evacuation and closure of the Newcastle airport, and airforce base, before changing direction and resulting in multiple road closers, and home evacuations. Many of our friends are unable to get home as most of the roads into the bay are currently closed. We are safe, and at least 20km from the fire at the moment.
On Sunday, there were two fires that were within 10km on either side of us, but we were not threatened at all. It was hot, with a very dry wind; we planned to go for a run and swim at a beach to get out of the house, and make the best of the day. We were on our way to Fingal Bay when we heard there was a fire in the bushland at Fingal, but that the beach was still open and everything was under control, so we continued on. We ran around the bay to the spit, where we looked back at the fire just over a ridge, near some homes in the village. We went for a brief swim, but soon left the area because the smoke was so dark, and things looked quite scary, and we didn’t need to be there. On our drive back, we saw smoke coming from further east; which we later learned to be a fire that would destroy 5 homes in Salt Ash. Some of our friends and co-workers were evacuated, with fire right up to their fence lines, but the fire at Fingal Bay did not result in any lost property.
Australia has a bush fire season, fires happen every year. And so, there are some particular efficiencies that I have noticed. The NSW Fire Brigade is the world’s largest fire service and has an astounding amount of volunteers. If a volunteer is unable to make it to work due to their efforts fighting a fire, the government compensates their wages to the company they work for. Anyone with a mobile phone (with location services switched on) receives a text message if they are within fire danger.
Aside from the horrific loss of property, and the threats to human life, there is devastating loss of animal life; particularly the native wild animals. Koala’s move very slowly, and live in the trees that are potentially alight. On Saturday, a few friends and I are going to receive orientation with the Hunter Koala Preservation Society to start volunteering with them. Part of what we may be doing, down the road, is walking through areas that have been burnt and locating injured animals that were not initially seen by the fire fighters.
On a bit of a lighter note; after a 30km bike ride out to survey the damage at Fingal Bay after a short day of work on Monday, I came home and did some gardening – transplanting and fertilizing some plants. I did some maintenance on my bicycle, and then sat in the back yard, enjoying the last bit of sunshine, and basking in the accomplishments of the day. I was suddenly brought back to reality by the stench of my grease and fertilizer on my hands that were sitting on my mouth, just beneath my nose... Oh well, can’t win ‘em all!