Bushfire season… we are not yet into Summer and we have just experienced our first threat. Thursday was a day no different to many others, it was forecast to be a warm, possibly hot day. There were warnings that extreme wind could fan any possible fires, causing a fire ban to be in effect for the state of Tasmania. I came to work, as I usually do, and kept myself busy. Around 12:45 in the afternoon, Kitty emailed me, telling me that there was a reported fire that was out of control on the road between Hobart and our home. The route to my home has several sections that, should one of these areas close, would mean that I have no way to get home. The fire was approaching one of these sections, which meant that I could be in trouble. While I started to call Kitty to discuss, I checked the Tasmanian Fire Service website that had a warning stating that the fire was expected to close down the whole section in an hour. I also checked the Bureau of Meteorology’s website, to check weather conditions. I could see that the wind was high, and blowing in a direction which could mean the fire might reach my home. Kitty and I had a quick talk, and we decided that I needed to come home.
I needed to act, so I left work immediately (I work in a place that permits me to do this, from time to time… one of the reasons I like to work there). I quickly walked to my car, and set out to get home. Once I passed over Vince’s Saddle I could see the huge plumes of smoke in the distance. My stomach dropped a little when I saw this, bringing back memories of previous bushfires. I kept driving, formulating plans as I closed the distance between the fire and me.
As I came closer to the bushfire, I noticed an increase in cars driving towards me, away from the fire. I was a little concerned about this, yet I comforted myself in the fact that I didn’t see any helicopters as I drove… this told me that the fire could not be as bad as I had read. As I approached one of the roads I take to get home, which was a couple of kilometres from the fire, I noticed that the police had closed off the road and they were turning away vehicles. I had expected this and didn’t bother joining the queue of cars that were being turned away, driving around them on to the alternative route. Three minutes after leaving the closed road, I approached the dangerous section of the road. I was going to be driving close to the fire so I was on the look out for animals fleeing the flames, or any vehicles acting erratically. It was at this point that I spotted a Helicopter in the distance. It was quite a distance away, yet there was no mistaking it. Suddenly, my car was momentarily cast into shadow, I looked at the road before me and I could see the shadow of rotating blades. I quickly took my foot off the accelerator and I looked up. A Helicopter had just passed over my car and travelled to the right. It was incredibly low to the ground and it was preparing to refill it’s water bucket from the dam that was just off the side of the road I was driving. I was immediately impressed with the pilot’s ability to fly so low, yet also a little concerned… if the chopper was filling up here, the danger was closer than I expected.
I continued driving for another minute before I turned a corner and encountered what appeared to be another police road block. I slowed to a stop and tried to work out what was occurring before me ( I wish I took a photo of this to show how confusing it seemed). In front of me… to the right, perhaps 30 metres away, there were huge tongues of fire that were moving through the bushland. Firefighters were there in force. There was another car right in front of me, which had stopped on the road… from it emerged a woman from the passenger side, who walked over to the nature strip on the left side and watched the actions of the firefighters. I was focused on the policeman. He was standing on the road, talking into his radio. I couldn’t work out what was happening… was the road closed? Was he here to oversee the situation? I didn’t know, and the policeman didn’t approach any of the drivers (a couple of cars had now driven up behind me). I decided that I would try to continue down the road, yet as I started to move, the policeman signalled at me to stop. He approached and told me that this road was closed, and I would have to take the alternate route which had just now reopened. I thanked him for letting me know, and turned around. I felt a little relieved, having been given some clear directions on where to go to get home. As I travelled along the alternate route, I could see the helicopters moving amongst the smoke. The remainder of the drive was uneventful, there were few cars driving towards the fire, and I only had the radio and the smell of smoke to keep me company. Before too long I reached home.
Kitty was already at work, checking our Bug out bags, and ensuring that she had everything sorted and packed. I went over my bag and added a couple of items before Kitty and I discussed possible scenarios that we might encounter. We learned over the radio that the road between our home and Hobart was now closed, due to the fire danger. This, for me, validated my decision to leave work early. After this, there was little to do but to work in the garden (why waste the afternoon).
The next day, the situation was under control, due partly to the great work by our Firefighters, the wind dying down, and an evening downpour of rain. I drove to work and I came across a section that was severely burnt… which would explain why the road was closed. Several of the signs on the side of the road had melted.
Lessons learned? I don’t know if I did anything wrong here…. Or if I can see an area for improvement. At this stage, we are old hands at the bushfire game… or at least, the preparing for bushfire game. The few things of which I can think that could be done, we can not afford. A caravan would be welcome… meaning we could evacuate towards the south and stay in relative comfort (currently we have a tent and sleeping bags), a boat would mean that we could leave to safer waters (I can’t even afford a kayak at the moment). Hopefully in the future we will be able to afford these.