Thursday, March 26, 2009


Visiting our daughter and son-in-law, K and B, and their children, a month after the bushfire on their property, Farmdoc and I walked along firebreak tracks freshly gouged through the bush by brigade bulldozers. On one side the trees were unburnt and tangled with undergrowth, on the other side there was bare dirt, blackened trunks and scorched leaves.

We saw where the fire began, where it raced down Foxs Lane, only missing several houses by a few metres because of the efforts of the Country Fire Authority. In one front yard a fibreglass water tank was half burnt. In another, a new poly tank stood next to a cleared site where the debris of a destroyed house had been carted away.

We saw in the blackened trees the path of the fire as it headed down Foxs Lane, straight towards K and B's lovingly tended organic apple orchard and the chickens in their portable runs amongst the fruit trees. Then, redirected by a sudden wind change, the track veered across paddocks into the Wombat State Forest and through the bush that runs across the top of K and B’s property.

B is one of the most fire prepared people I know: sprinklers on the roof and around the fringe of the bush, a water tank on the back of a ute, fire hoses and petrol-fuelled water pump. He says now that it’s not enough to say your fire plan is just to evacuate, because there may not be sufficient warning. He says that you have to secure your house as well as you can so it doesn’t become tinder to burn your neighbours’ property. And you have to be properly equipped to flee too, with long sleeves and trousers, woollen blanket and water bottles. That if you stay you need to be prepared for that too. In these latest fires, people napped in their houses with closed windows so they didn't smell the smoke until it was all around them.

From K’s kitchen window the view is of blackened trunks. In the damp of early morning, the air smells of ash, like a cold dead fire left too long in the grate. But their house was saved and so were the sheds, the orchard and the market garden and all the animals.

I can’t imagine how that week felt, as they lived in the house surrounded by smoke, heat and spot fires that kept flaming into life. The fire brigade patrolled night and day, back-burning in some places, putting out flames that threatened to grow too big. K and B lived on their nerves.

But they, and we, know they were amongst the oh so lucky ones. They have a kilometre of fencing to replace and they’ve lost their innocence, but they have a supportive community and they discovered that the human spirit is as resilient as the Australian bush.

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