Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bushfire Season

Bushfires are a part of every Australian summer here in New South Wales. Every evening on the news there are reports on bushfires raging out of control, sometimes in remote areas, sometimes creeping close to residential areas.

There was a large bushfire in this area a few years ago that people have told us about. It caused the children in St Joseph's school to be evacuated as the school is in the middle of an area of bush. The trees all around the school were on fire and although the school is made of rows of log cabin style classrooms, not a single part of the school was singed.

Since we have lived here bushfires have been in the news but never truly local to us and not affecting us or our immediate town. This Wednesday was the closest we have come to understanding the true impact of a bushfire. In the afternoon there were large bushfires burning in the surrounding countyside. We saw many plumes of smoke in far away gum forests and heard the wail of distant sirens regularly. About 4pm the skies started to go prematurely dark. There were big storms approaching. The sky was a deep dark grey on the horizon. The following 3 hours were bizarre. The effects of the large bushfires on the sky was unbelievable. The skies turned a deep reddish orange colour mixed with the angry grey of the thunderstorms. All the cars had their headlights on full beam even though it was hours before sundown.

I was driving with Gareth home from Newcastle. The radio was warning all drivers of severe storms in between each music track. It seemed as though we were heading into the heart of it. There was a feeling as though we were in a film about the end of time. Everything was still and eerie. My visibility wasn't great out of the windscreeen. I put down the driver window and was overwhelmed by the thick smell of burning wood. It smelt hot and felt as though it was singeing me as I breathed in. It felt as though I was sitting beside a bonfire and I expected to be able to see a fire nearby. I got home just before the thunder and lightning started. The kids were very on edge. They were worried about the house being set in an acre of gum trees and whether we were in danger.

Over the next two hours the wind picked up and blew away most of the smoke and the skies retuned to their normal blue. Apparently the smoke was from the fires many miles away and none were dangerously close. The next day we noticed a fine dust on the car, clothes line etc. It is the ash from the distant fires. If fires that far away can feel so near I wonder what it must be like for people truly caught up in one.

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