Wow, what an eventful week! Last Wednesday Kitty called me at work to let me know that she could see a large column of smoke coming from far to the north west of our property. While on the phone I checked the Fire Tasmania website and it advised of a bush fire burning out of control 3kms to the North West of my house. I told Kitty I would leave work around 3:30pm so that we could check our preparations and be on watch. At 3:27pm I received a message from the local primary school advising that, due to road closures, the school bus was not in operation and the children needed to be picked up by parents. I called home and left a message for Kitty to let her know and then left work. A short 30 minute bus ride later I arrived at my car and began the drive up to my home, expecting to see some smoke in the distance and nothing serious.
Cresting the first mountain I could see a large, billowing, plume of smoke coming from close to where my property was located on the other side of the valley. I became concerned and quite nervous at this point. While I continued down into the valley I divided my attention between driving safely, mentally going over my preparations for this situation, and looking towards the burning area (trying to deduce the location of the fire in relation to my home). Just before I reached the road to my house I was stopped at a Police road block. The constable advised me that the road was closed due to fire. While I felt that I needed to get to my house to assist Kitty in any evacuation plans, I felt that arguing with the constable would be wasted time and as I knew of an alternate route there was no need to simply drive around him. I turned the car around and drove along an alternate route that would deposit me further along the road to my house. All the while I was starting to worry about my family and I was becoming very nervous. Within a few minutes I arrived at my home and I immediately noticed that Kitty was not home. The house was locked, yet it appeared that she had left in a hurry. Near the front door, Kitty had stacked our Bug out Bags (these are bags which we had prepared previously that contained clothing, shoes, medicine, food, as well as hard drives full of photos and important documents). I noticed that one of our UHF handsets was taken from the docking station, I grabbed another and began attempting to contact Kitty. There was no answer from our channel so I assumed that either Kitty was on her way to our fall back location, or that she had forgotten to turn on her radio. I then had to make a decision… as Michael Geoffrey Jones famously asked, “Should I stay or should I go”? I decided to go to our regrouping location (a location which we had previously decided was where we would go should be we separated) and to that end I started packing my car with the bug out bags, all the while continuing to monitor the direction of the smoke and attempting to contact Kitty on the radio.
As I approached locked the front door and started to walk to the car I saw Kitty driving down the driveway. Kitty told me that she had been at the school and was waiting for me to see her car and pull in on the way home. I had been too focused on driving and the fire to notice the car so I had apparently driven past it. When I asked Kitty about the radio she mentioned she had grabbed it as part of our preps, yet in the excitement she had forgotten to turn it on. We called a local friend who knew details from high up in the Fire Service. They advised that while it looked bad, there was no immediate threat to my property. Later that evening I packed the bug out bags and other essentials into the cars and settled in for the night.
Things were looking worse on the next morning. The Fire Tasmania website had escalated the threat warning to “Watch and Act”, which signifies that there is a significant danger. During the morning we were once again in discussion with our local contact who told me that they were evacuating. Outside the smoke was getting thicker and we could regularly hear firetrucks driving up and down our nearest road every few minutes. The feeling that we needed to get out of there was growing stronger by the minute. Kitty was walking around and seemed to be packing random items in the extra bags we had (she told me later that she was nervous and was packing by intuition). Finally, we decided late in the morning it was time to go. The car was already packed and there was no room for the dogs. I felt that this would not be a problem as I hoped the danger would be over in a few hours and we could return home. Kitty and I loaded the kids and ourselves in the cars, turned on our UHF radios and rolled out. I had the radios as I expected there to be roadblocks, smoke, or we could be separated. With the radios ewe were sure to be in contact. The drive down to the city was mostly uneventful, apart from some young guy road raging on me (which I didn’t emulate, causing him to become even more angry). It was strange driving through the city with so much on our minds, and everyone else was going about their daily business without any thought for our problems. We took the children to a large park in Sandy Bay and discussed our next move. While there we met another resident of our town who had evacuated. She told us that she new the fire fighters and they had told her that this fire would take days to get under control. With this new info we decided that we needed to arrange accommodation for the night. After lunch we went to Kitty’s mother’s house and used her internet to look up hotels. I had great difficulty in locating accommodation because nearly all hotels were booked due to a festival in Hobart that weekend. The only place I could find for that night, for our large family, was a caravan park out at Rosny. I booked the room and we headed there to check in.
The caravan park wasn’t that bad. The rooms were not crowded and the place was clean. There was a children’s park and mini golf area so we had something to keep the kids out of trouble. After dinner we had trouble getting the kids to go to sleep as they were sleeping in bunk beds and were too excited. Eventually everyone settled down for the night and Kitty and I were hopeful that the event would be over quickly so that we could return home.