Saturday, February 7, 2009

Before I collapse into bed...

As if today wasn't going to be a strain enough, when I left this morning the forecast was "brace yourselves, Melbourne, for our hottest day ever recorded."

It was 8.30am. It was already 33ºC and went on to reach 46.something in the city, maxing at 47ºC, nearly 48ºC elsewhere around the state. I phoned Steve from the car and told him I'd leave my phone on silent, on the table with me, and briefly confirmed with him what he needed to pack in the car in case of fire evacuation.

I just had an inkling. Looking at the sky, hearing the forecast, there was a sense of foreboding.

Well, it happened. And I'll give it in debrief point form, for as long as I can muster some energy to record this monumental day:

The sight that greeted Steve over the neighbour's yard

• I got a call from a very Cool Cucumber husband at about 3.30 today, politely advising me he was sorry to interrupt the course but didn't want to alarm me - I wouldn't be able to come home because the highway was now blocked.
• He told me he now couldn't see the hills directly behind our place (less than 1/2km away) for smoke.
• I checked with him that everything was packed and asked if he was being serious here. He said "Yuh.... it's pretty hairy."
• An hour later, he called again. It had worsened. He was outside now, hosing embers off our house and backyard. The wind gusts were blowing in our direction, right from the fire. Neighbours were losing odd plants here and there (we later found out from several people that their hair had burned with floating airborne ash while they were outside hosing down their properties too).
• Steve reported he could see flames as he stood in our yard. He estimated the fire was less than 200m from our home at that point.
• I asked if everyone seemed okay. He said "Yeah, the neighbours have been all great, we're all out here just checking in with each other."
• I sat, distracted, for the next 45 minutes. The group broke earlier than planned, it was far too hot and unsettled outside that window. Like one massive Earthly hairdryer blowing on high in your face as soon as you exited from the air conditioned indoors.
• As I drove closer to the hills (at the foot of which is the valley where we live), the sky was an ominous orange glow. Traffic was being funnelled down one tiny feeder road, the highway having been blocked.
• At this point, I phoned a friend for some good old-fashioned blubbering and swearing. She was ace (thanks Mel!).
• I got home and discovered that my daughter had been turned into a Cling-on during my absence. The water helicopters were droning and low, ferrying big tubes of water time and again from the nearby reservoir into the wild fire that was still threatening homes just across the road from our place.
• I was not expecting the fire to be that close to us, even though it was exactly as Steve described. I just couldn't imagine it til I saw it for myself and saw the flames.
• At its peak this afternoon, there were 13-14 engines attending the haze. Now there are just a couple, it is an ongoing but contained fire. I am certain imminent danger is averted. Or perhaps that is just my mind convincing me it's okay to get some shut-eye...
• I can't stop thinking of the animals. All the native darling animals!
• I feel desperate and sad, as I think so many of us do, when I see the widespread dangerous fires burning across our state. The people, the properties, yes... but the animals. It really makes me so very sad.
• The highway is still blocked. This is not giving me a safe feeling. It means they (the fireys and police still out there, literally one house block away from us over our back fence) don't think it's safe enough. That doesn't make me feel like sleeping a wink tonight! But I am oh so exhausted, mentally, from the exertion of today's learning.
• Steve and I went on one of the most bizarre couples-walks ever, wandering with neighbours who were cautious but not hysterical. They are used to this. We've been here just over a year; many residents have been here decades and see fires like this (and this close) every few years.
• For now, we have been stepped down from immediate danger but have been warned to stay on alert tonight as winds (they've stilled to an eery lull for a couple of hours now so I think we may be okay) might pick up. It tends to be quite blustery here, as the wind gets channelled through the narrow valley.

Something to get used to. The area, the community, the scenery, is well worth the imminent threat - believe it or not. I've never been more proud and felt more love for the community I live in than I did today. So caring and jovial. I feel very safe here, in terms of being looked out for - worlds away, it seems, from the "each to himself, me first" collective attitude of our previous "community".

In the thick of it:

And on a (semi) clear day, you can see forever... Here is the view almost back to normal after the wind changed and the smoke retreated off the hill:

And..... our Foxtel is down. Steve threatened he was was going to be one of those annoying consumers and call them to complain about our signal being down. I slapped him for you, dear reader.

Over and out.

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