Thursday, 26 November 2015

A "catastrophic" fire day

was declared yesterday. 
There were several large fires in this state. Two of them are now under control, the third is still dangerous.
All fire is dangerous of course but the third had a front of 41km at its height. It was moving too rapidly for fire crews to get in front of it. It travelled around 50km in four hours. There were seventeen aircraft working on it and sixty-eight ground units. Late yesterday they brought in two much bigger aircraft from another state and some interstate fire crews are coming to relieve the exhausted crews here.
At present the perimeter of the fire is around 210km. They hope to keep it contained inside that today.
The reason the fire could travel so quickly was not just the windy conditions (60-65km and hour with gusts of up to 90km) but the fact that most of the area is farm land and fire can travel incredibly rapidly across now mostly dry pasture. There is an enormous difference between dry and wet pasture  - one farmer said his crop of green lucerne slowed the fire to the point where he was able to save his home but at least sixteen houses have been lost.
For many people there would be nothing they could do - except get out while they could. Schools were closed, a child care centre was evacuated to a police station in the northern suburbs of the city. School children had to be taken to other safe places.
All of this has happened very close to where I was born and where I spent the first few years of my life. I have a memory of a fire very close to the little town at that time. I still remember the heat, the smoke and my grandfather, who had come to take us to safety, gripping the steering wheel of the car and peering forward through the foggy haze of smoke, a damp handkerchief over his nose so he could breathe. I remember the damp of a face washer over my face and being told to keep it over my brother's face.
My parents, travelling in our tiny car behind him, had to stop at one point to get more water from the house of a stranger - water which probably saved the life of Middle Cat who was then my tiny baby sister. The woman at the house was getting ready to leave too but she ran for a bucket of water and Middle Cat was put in it to cool her down and help her breathe again. When we reached Gawler, then a rural town, my grandfather stopped and I could see his white shirt was pink where the dye had come out of the seat of the car. (Back then car seats were leather and thus dyed different colours.)
My grandmother had a sister in law living in Gawler and we were given copious quantities of water at her home before driving towards the beach side suburb my grandparents lived in. 
That fire bypassed the town we lived in. This fire did not quite reach it. 
The Senior Cat came out this morning and his first words were not his usual ones but, "What's the news like?"
He will see a picture in the paper this morning of a man he once taught, a man whose son has lost everything despite their best efforts. It is the price some people pay for living in rural Downunder. They will pick up the pieces and start again - with some help from the rest of us. 

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