My bushfire experience
(I had written this yesterday but my internet connection keeps failing so I could only post this today, my Monday. I want to thank Ms Sunshine for her last post on the thread she started where she asked how we all 'Down Under' - read that as 'H E L L' (LOL) were doing)
Today is Sunday, the 15th of February. A week and a day ago, the fires began. There is still what is called back burningÂ going on in my and other areas and the air is heavy with smoke. I canÂt see the mountains outside my front window for the smoke. But, as of today, there are no alert messages and it seems no towns are in danger of any of the fires that persist. There are still awareness messages from the Country Fire Authority, CFA, and IÂm hoping and praying they donÂt get upgraded.
As some of you may know I commented in one of the threads that we were having a week of blistering heat staring around February 1st. Temperatures were hitting 110+. Late in the week the weather reports showed we would cool back down to the 70Âs and I even talked about how IÂd take advantage of the cool weather and work on my mosaic bench.
Saturday, February 7th, was the hottest day; around 117. We were sitting inside with the curtains drawn, watching Fox News. At around 4 in the afternoon, I noticed our living room turned a strange orangey color. I looked through the curtains and saw my garden and the mountains beyond reflected that orange. There was a huge cumulous cloud forming over the mountain and some kind of cloud formation happening above the house but that was obscured by the wide eave that overhangs our front porch.
I went outside and looked around. There was still a patch of bright blue sky to the north of us and coming from behind the house a thick, eerie, orange-black cloud was hanging. I got my camera and started taking photos. I called my girlfriend to ask her what was going on and she said they were reporting fires in Kinglake. That town is about 12 miles northwest of where I am in Chum Creek. I did not feel in danger at all at this point. Actually, I was rather fascinated by the cumulous cloud rising over Mt St LeonardÂs, which was billowing at an extremely fast rate. I had been praying for rain and was hoping this cloud would open up and release all its water on my parched garden.
I was in and out of the house after that. It was too hot to stay outside, but too hot to do anything other than be on the puter or watch TV. I was also in contact with my girlfriend who was keeping close tabs on the fires in Kinglake because her daughter lives there. My friendÂs daughter had just had her home constructed there and had moved in around Christmastime. Sometime around 5 I decided I needed to water around the house. I still wasnÂt thinking that fire would hit our area, but the heat from what I thought of as Âdistant fireÂ was being felt here. From the window in the room where my computer is I could keep an eye on the smoke cloud coming from Kinglake. That window points to the Kinglake area.
At around 6 I checked out that window again but this time there was a very weird black fire cloud rising behind two houses back of mine. Now I was starting to get nervous. I went outside to have a better look. I spoke with DH and he said he didnÂt like it. I went in to call my friend to ask her if she had heard anything or could see what was going on. She lives on a hill in Healesville and from her veranda she has a 180-degree view of the entire valley northeast of us. My house is actually west of herÂs but I thought she might still be able to see what was going on. She starts yelling that there are fires all over and that I needed to get out.
Panic button was pushed. I started yelling out for DH who I couldnÂt find anywhere. He was in the garden. I started grabbing a few things, a towel, DHÂs watch that was on the coffee table, went to turn off the computer and saw Trygg so picked him up to take with me. Yes, Kirk et al, Trygg the troublesome Troll came with me!! And then, before I left the house, I said prayers that no harm would befall it.
We mostly use the side entrance to go in and out of the house. That is where the carport is. I stood there for a moment and looked toward the back of the property at the smoke. I could hear the roar of the fire. I rushed toward the car in the drive. On the road in front of my house there was car after car heading out of our area. At the same time we were getting into our car to leave, my neighbors on both sides and behind me were getting in their cars. There was this mass exodus of our community all at the same time. Up the road, in the opposite direction we were travelling, there was a mass of thick, charcoal smoke screening the view in that direction. As we approached the end of this street there was a fire truck and police car but they werenÂt really directing traffic or anything. Many of the cars started to head into Healesville, which is about a five-minute drive from Chum Creek, but I told DH that I wanted out of the entire area. There was smoke coming from Mt Riddell in Healesville and more plumes around that area and I wanted to be far away from all of it. We drove through the valley and could see a fire in one of the vineyards. We stopped two towns away from the valley in a town called Lilydale to go to the supermarket to buy dog food and some food for us. We sat in the parking lot for a long time and could see that a fire had started near there, too. A car pulled up near ours and it was one of our neighbors. We spoke with them for a while; they were heading to a friendÂs house. We were told that a relocation area had been set up at Lilydale Lake and we could go there. We did. Unfortunately, that was not where the relocation area was and a few hours later we heard on the news that it was this other park in Lilydale so we went there, registered with the Red Cross in case anyone was looking for us, and we were given accommodation in a hotel.
The next day, Sunday, we went back to check on the house. As we drove through the valley toward home there were only a few plumes of smoke rising over the mountains. The sky was relatively clear and the road fairly empty. When we reached Healesville we could see some people on the street and it looked like any other Sunday morning. We turned off the main street onto the road that lead to home. I was feeling sick to my stomach with nerves as we rounded the bend that is just before our set of houses. And then I see my neighborÂs house. And my neighborÂs house next to that. And then there is our house. Perfect. Nothing. We were spared. Our prayers were heard and answered.
Once inside I started packing some essentials. We would be staying at DHÂs nephewÂs house untilÂ who knows. We called a few people to let them know we were okay and our house was still standing. I watered the pot plants. I did not want to stay any longer than I had to. I knew I was forgetting things but I was too nervous being in the house to think. There were still fires around and that was the major thought in my mind. I kept checking out the windows to see if there were smoky plumes outside.
We hadnÂt seen any news until we were at the nephewÂs house. Until then we had only been listening to radio where callers were asking if anyone knew where whoever was. It was very sad. ThatÂs when I decided to check the GJ site because I knew someone might have heard about it and would be wondering about me and I didnÂt want to have any of you wonderful people worry.
We didnÂt come back to the house until Tuesday. DHÂs nephew took us. One of the things I had forgotten to pick up on Sunday was all our important papers Â including my passport. From the valley I could see that the fire activity around our area had INCREASED! I was so dejected. I thought it might have slowed down by then but it was worse.
Before we went to the house we decided to drive to Hodges Road where we knew the fire had been. It was from there that the strange, whirly, black plume was coming on the Saturday we fled. It was another of those surreal moments where your mind canÂt grasp what the eyes are viewing. To the left of me was a colorless, black and white scene of a burned out forest. To the right were houses, roses still flowering in the gardens. As we drove down the narrow, dirt road we were all stunned by the miracle we were witnessing. This road is barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other, and yet the fire stopped at the ÂcurbÂ and never touched any house directly across from it. Further down the road we began to see a house or a shed burned to the left. But then the fire seemed to have stopped again at another property that just a couple of months ago we had gone to for a garage sale. The fire literally stopped at this houseÂs driveway. The only time the fire jumped the road to the right side was toward the end of the road when it became Â basically forest. Very wild.
Once at the house we started watching the helicopter water bombers working furiously to take out the fire that had started up on the hill directly across the street. Ugh! DH and nephew watched mesmerized. Ugh. But I did get my camera to take pictures because DH loves flying. He used to have a ÂflyingÂ real estate business. He would fly prospects over the agricultural land they were thinking of purchasing.
IÂm very glad we didnÂt stay because after that it seems the fire worsened. Today one side of the hill is burned out and I would have really freaked had I been watching flames bursting on a hill just across the street of me.
We returned again on Thursday. There was a town hall meeting where we were told we were in no danger and that there was mostly back burning going on. Most people at the meeting werenÂt really buying that information. I wasnÂt. A huge issue was that people wanted sirens to be sounded off if there was an imminent danger.
I need to explain bush fire policy here. Everyone who lives in the country towns needs to have a bush fire procedure in place. People have the choice to stay to protect their property or to leave. We are supposed to be alerted as to when to implement our bush fire plans. Except people complained about the sirens calling them Ânoise pollutionÂ so there arenÂt sirens that go off anymore and you either have to listen to the radio to find out what to do or check the CFA website. Neither of these is as immediate as a siren going off. At the meeting a woman asked if they would be sounding sirens. The council representative said they were not going to tell people what to do so they needed to implement their own plan and if they were going to sty, then they fight, but if they were going to leave they needed to do so immediately. The audience sat there scratching their heads because that was the most stupid answer anyone had heard. Later someone asked again if they would sound a siren and the idiot gave the same answer and their was grumbling in the audience but the guy with the mic quickly turned the to another topic. Finally another woman asked the same question as the council guy started to give the same answer, this time sounding ticked off, the woman interrupted him and said he wasnÂt understanding the question at all and she went into a lengthy explanation saying we wanted a siren because that would be the quickest way for us to know it was time to implement out plans. She went on for about 5 minutes which was the longest any of us were allowed to speak. After she was finished, the council rep took a moment, then simply said, "No. There will be no sirens." The expressions of disgust that rose from the crowdÂ a whole bunch of people got up and started leaving.
As we drove home from the meeting I could see fire raging on one of the mountain tops. That was the first time I saw actual fire in our area. At home I couldnÂt see the fire from my front window but I could see the red glow. Needless to say I barely slept. At around 8 in the morning, Friday, the phone rang and it was another girlfriend of mine saying that there had been a fireman at her door and that we should evacuate. About 5 minutes later DHÂs nephew called and said we had to leave and DH told him that we had heard and were already on our way back to his place. One of the controlled burnoff had gotten out of hand when the wind changed direction and there were live embers falling on Healesville and Chum Creek where I live. Our car was covered with them Â though they were no longer alive. We returned later that afternoon after the threat was downgraded but returned to the nephewÂs house that night so I could sleep peacefully. Then we came back yesterday, Saturday, and I had a very bad nightÂs sleep because at around 1 in the morning the smell of the fire changed. It wasnÂt woody anymore like a campfire but more like plastic burning. Or maybe tires. My internet was down again so I listened to the radio and they said no town was in danger so I went to bed, fell asleep for a couple of hours, then woke again because the smell was that bad. I listened to the radio again and the report was that there were no towns in danger so I went back to bed and slept for a few more hours.
And so itÂs now, 3:20 in the afternoon. IÂve been writing this since this morning. The sky is still hazey, thereÂs no smell in the house though there is outside, the sun is shining on the garden, and still no chance of rain.
This is the current awareness message for my area:
Fire activity including controlled burning is present in the Mount Riddell and Mount Juliet areas East of Healesville. No properties are under threat and residents can continue to expect smoke and flame activity from these fires.
Crews are currently patrolling and blacking out the fire edge in the Donnellys Weir vicinity.
Controlled burning in the vicinity of Narbethong and Toolangi will continue today. Residents in these areas may experience smoke and flame activity, however no properties are currently under threat."
IÂm west of Healesville. DonnellyÂs Weir is in between us and Healesville, and Narbethong and Toolangi are just a bit north of us. WeÂll be getting fire crews in from New Zealand and the US today to help with these fires.
There is no care for the welfare of the people in the state I live in and I blame it on the fact that this state has been under the equivalent of Democrat rule for ages. Democrats here are called Labor. A faction of Labor are the Greens Party. And itÂs the greenies that have been systematically increasing our risk of bushfires for the last 15 years, probably more, with draconian policies that have virtually wiped out all rights of the property owner and have scared the state government into practically abolishing controlled burns of the forest floors.
And then thereÂs this tragic news in the papers today. A senior emergency services source confirmed that the triple-0 (911) phone line was going unanswered during the crisis on Saturday the 7th, preventing people from reporting new fires, and that CFA internal radio and paging services, and emergency notifications on CFA and DSE websites were clogged and inadequate.
I spoke with my girlfriend yesterday and we are going to go after out green council with both guns pointing. She already managed to get her name in a newspaper article this past week because she had written to the council in November warning them that there policies were creating a serious threat to the welfare of residents here. 14 people died in our shire. Fortunately none in Healesville or Chum Creek, though, Chum Creek had 36 homes lost to the blaze.
As for my gardenÂ parched and dying after the extreme heat from last week and probably the mass amounts of smoke choking the plants. But Our Lady surely came to our aide and protected our property. I do count my blessings.
Thanks to all of you for reading such a long diatribe. It actually has been quite theraputic. And thank you all for your prayers and well wishes. ItÂs not over yet. Fire season is all summer long so here weÂre all praying no more 100+ days. There are so many areas that have been spared from these fires and people are still a bit nervous. Also, Wednesday seems to be a day when the north wind might blow so people are geering up for that. We may have more fires starting. There was one yesterday in another town but they managed to douse it.
Again, thank you ALL!!
I LOVE you guys!!