Fire on the water

I had breakfast/brunch with my sister and her kids yesterday. I returned home at about 1pm. It was bloody hot. I had the rest of the day to myself.

For the last week there have been small outbreaks of bushfire down the surf coast way, seemingly under control. Yesterday they flared up and broke containment lines. What was a managed situation became unmanaged, and a danger to people and property.

I became aware of this driving home listening to the radio. At home I checked the news sites online and watched developments as things went from bad to worse.

My interest particularly this time is that the cheeses were in the middle of it. They had headed down to Wye River on Wednesday. Wye River was now under threat. I sent a message early querying the situation and wishing them a merry Christmas. At that stage you believe that it will be contained and all will be good. That’s human nature.

It became apparent that wouldn’t be the case. Reports said that Wye River had to be evacuated and I became concerned. I tried calling, not wanting to be a nuisance at such a time, but wanting some reassurance too. There was no answer. Half an hour later I got a message from Cheeseboy. They had evacuated and where in Apollo Bay. We exchanged texts and he told me they hoped to get back to their campsite later, but didn’t know if it would be possible.

It was impossible. The fire engulfed Wye River destroying over 50 homes there, and apparently the camping grounds. Then the fire changed direction towards Lorne, which was now under great threat.

This is a very beautiful part of the world. At any time it would be catastrophic, but at Christmas it is a complete calamity. For example, Lorne has a normal population of 1,600 – at Christmas it increases to 16,000. Wye River is smaller, but also very popular. Suddenly Christmas holidays for thousands of families have been totally disrupted, and on Christmas day. Inconvenient as that is, The real risk is those same holiday makers losing their lives.

It’s an emotional day Christmas day. All day and into the evening I followed the reports on the news on the fires, I sent another text to Cheeseboy updating him with what I knew and suggesting that perhaps they should try and head home via the inland route. There was no answer to that.

At the same time I’m watching the news, about celebrations all around the world, about the kindness of strangers, the generosity of the times, and I’m greatly moved, and uplifted. As is my want these days, tears come to me. I have my memories too, mixed in with all that. And now the fires are more real than ever because my dearest and his family are somewhere there.

At 9.30, seconds after I had thought about them again, the phone rang. It was Cheeseboy. He was home.

We spoke for 10 minutes. He told me the story, about how they had to swiftly flee, leaving most of their possessions, and a second car behind. The kids are upset obviously, and they’re in a state of mild shock themselves. He was unsure what happens now. Chances are the fire will be extinguished shortly – today it’s no more than 20 degrees, and the rain has tumbled down. There’s a chance they may be able to return to complete their holiday – but also every chance that the fire has ravaged their camp site.

Ironically, for me, they had invited me down to visit around NYE. I wanted to, but I couldn’t take Rigby. Yesterday my sister agreed to mind him in exchange for doing her a favour. I was free to go, and now this has happened.

That’s the least of it of course. I’d have liked a break, but they have had their whole Christmas turned upside down, and their kids distressed. We’ll know in the next few days what happens. Hopefully they can get back down there an everything is safe – then it’s no worse than an interesting story.

Unfortunately it’s more than an interesting story for hundreds, and maybe thousands of others. No lives have been lost, but the homes of many have gone up in flames. There are some particularly spectacular photos and film clips. It’s a part of life in Oz, and there’ll be more of it this season. It’s the risk always, and guess means should be thankful for all the good we have, for the moments when it goes bad.

Thankful to for the work of the thousands of CFA volunteers who risk themselves to protect others. They really are a national treasure.

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