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That time I got up close and personal with a bushfire

A brilliant article I read this week reminded me of something I thought I understood but greatly underestimated when we moved to the country – bushfires.

I thought we were prepared from our first Summer here.

We went along to the RFS open day at the start of the bushfire season and collected all of the info on getting prepared. We had what we thought was a reasonable plan (leave!) and a list & quick access to the things we’d take if we had to go. We’d even started working on a longer term plan of setting up a basic sprinkler system for the shed for some protection; and placing an order for a small firefighting trailer.

And then March came around and bushfire season ended uneventfully, so we started putting everything away, including our front of mind thinking about fire danger.

We got caught up moving our life and worldly possessions into our big old farm shed after selling our Sydney house and getting the hell out of dodge (finally!).

Which of course was the cue to be taught a valuable lesson about bushfires and never dropping your guard when your home is surrounding by 90 acres of trees. Especially when the bushfire seasons are getting longer and longer.

Our lesson arrived on an unseasonably wild and warm day late in March. The temps were in the high thirties, and the wind was strong enough to blow you off your feet, with our little weather station confirming gusts of up to 90 kays an hour.

My Facebook feed confirmed what we didn’t need to be told – the RFS had issued a total fire ban advice. We decided some indoor jobs would be sensible and headed to the shed, deciding we’d (ironically) spend the afternoon clearing and cutting firewood if the weather wasn’t too terrible.

The morning progressed uneventfully until I decided to head back to the shouse to check how our old kelpies were dealing with the heat and wind.  As I walked back, something made me look back over my shoulder.  And notice the massive, thick and angry looking cloud of smoke looming over the back of our shed.

The next five minutes were a blur of very bad swear words, sprints that would give an Olympic gold medallist a run for their money and a frantic 000 call after we determined there was indeed a bushfire on our neighbour’s property on a total fire ban day.  

Given our bushfire plan was to leave, and with the fire being pretty bloody close already (a technical term for bushfire assessment right there), I frantically loaded the car with the dogs and our half-empty go bags (finally, laziness & not completing a job had come in handy!!!). Meanwhile, Duncan took off quickly to make sure our neighbours (many of who don’t have good phone reception) knew what was going on.

We met up again at the end of our road and watched in awe as the local RFS brigades arrived and sprung into action, while a spotter plane amazingly flew overhead – all in the middle of nowhere but within 30 minutes of my 000 call.

The RFS quickly assessed that our main roads out were likely to be cut by the rapidly travelling fire, so we decided to evacuate to one of the nearby RFS stations.

We spent the afternoon nervously cracking jokes with newly met, also evacuating neighbours. At the same time, we anxiously listened to the updates from the RFS radios to try and work out if our little shouse, shed, worldly possessions and trees were going to make it through.

At around 7 pm, with the situation still looking dire, we decided we’d be spending a night in town and started the fun process of trying to find a motel that would accept two humans and two dogs with no notice!

Getting ready to settle in for the night confirmed just how underprepared we really were:

  • While we had laptops and phones, the chargers were still sitting plugged in at home.
  • While I’d remembered to grab changes of clothes, clean undies and socks got missed in the mix.
  • While the dogs were safely and happily with us, their food and beds were not!

Thank God for 24-hour KMarts is all I can say 😉

We spent that night tossing and turning, before returning to the RFS station bright and early the next morning for an update, the sight and smell of smoke still very heavy in the air.

The good news? Our place had mostly come through, with no damage to the buildings, although 30 acres of our bush had not fared so well.  The even better news was that we could go home, but with the fire still very active around us we’d need to listen to the RFS CB radio channel and be prepared to leave again.

What followed was another few nights of broken sleep, nerves and living on high alert as we worked on our balcony so we could keep an eye on the flare-ups around us. Our landline telephone melted for a bit of extra fun, so at night we slept in shifts so we could keep an ear on what was happening on the RFS CB radio channel.

While it was a challenging few days, we also got to see some pretty amazing stuff like how incredible the people who volunteer their time to the RFS are. Not to mention their skills as their trucks and helicopters drew water from our dams in efforts that would put the best stunt drivers to shame! And ultimately, our little patch of the world came through with no loss of life and no loss of significant structures.

It also taught us a few valuable lessons that helped us prepare better for the recent – and horrendous – 2019/20 bushfire season in NSW, which we thankfully didn’t need to use.

Tree changer lessons learned?   

  • Bushfires have no respect for bushfire season any more.
  • When you live in a place surrounded by bush, it’s best just to have your go-bag ready to go all year round (or be prepared to learn to live with new life hacks when you get evacuated, like turning your undies inside out to reveal a clean pair).
  • Kmart really is a wondrous place & a source for everything (even dog food!).

On a more serious note, though, we learned:

  • The RFS are amazing and really don’t get enough credit (or Government support) for what they do.
  • While our experience felt pretty scary, it was nothing compared to what many people have gone through with bushfires, particularly during the horrendous 2019/2020 season. We were incredibly lucky. Many have not been, losing loved ones, loved pets and animals, livelihoods and cherished possessions and memories.

Stay safe Tree Changers & Sea Changers.



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