Australia is, as everybody knows, highly flammable, and there is currently a large number of severe bushfires going on around Sydney; unusual for this time of year. A state of emergency has been declared across the state, and although the bushfires are of course spread across a vast area, the smoke is quite visible where we live. Well, in most of Sydney I think.
I have spent all afternoon today on the roof sweeping off branches and leaves from the roof and from the veranda roof as far as I could reach out (the veranda roof is not strong enough to carry me), and on a ladder clearing leaves and whatever else out of the gutters.
Then I swept the pavement and ripped up anything that looked dry and long haired and grew near the house. I was wearing my ear plugs all that time, because it is cicada season and the noise outside is deafening, probably somewhere between 120 and 150 DB, because these things really want to make themselves heard in their 6 weeks of adulthood (and then they die).
I haven’t been too specific about my location so far, but we live about an hours drive west of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia. I am not Aussie and don’t know much about bushfires except for what I have read in the news and on the NSW Rural Fire Service’s website and in the Bushfire Survival Plan. That’s why we cleared the gutters… the plan tells us to.
We are not done with everything the plan says yet, far from it. I don’t think we are in danger of being reached by any major bushfire front in the suburb where we live, but according to the plan, embers can travel many kms/hours ahead a front and start spotfires, and we do live just a few streets from bushland, which accordingly to the plan means our house should be prepared even if we don’t think it is in danger.
We are about 50 kms from the nearest major bushfire front that is currently burning. That fire alone has at this stage burnt well over 12,000 ha land (and counting). It was downgraded from “Emergency” to “Watch & Act” level after Thursday (the worst day so far), but the weather conditions are forecast to worsen again from tomorrow with high temperatures and gusty winds predicted.
Thursday I was in Sydney city. It was supposed to be a warm and sunny day, but instead a sickly grey haze covered the sky and made the sun look small, red and faint. It was surreal. Sydney is a big city far from the fire fronts, but the fires out there are so massive that it can darken the sky in Sydney when the wind comes from a “helpful” direction.
17 October 2013 – Photo from The Conversation
When I drove home westward on the highway that day, the huge dark smoke clouds were looming ahead in the distance all the time. The mobile traffic signs informed that the highway was closed further west due to the bushfires.
When I drove off towards my suburb, the traffic information sign there rolled 3 messages over and over on the screen: “Total Fire Ban”, “Report Suspicious Activity”, and “Activate Your Bushfire Plan”. Activate Your Bushfire Plan? Like, what now? There wasn’t any emergency warning on for our suburb, so that was confusing. Our bushfireplan is to drive to the city, but that seemed like a bit of an overkill since there was (and is) no acute threat to our area.
Approximately what I imagined when the sign said that the highway was closed due to bushfires… Photo from news.com.au of bushfires in January 2013
I came home and watched the news with my husband and it was all about the bushfire situation of course, but not very informative. Basically, nobody knew much. They just kept repeating how severe the threat was and how tragic it is for the many people who have lost their homes, and kept replaying the same interviews over and over.
Next morning there was a strong smell of smoke everywhere outside and inside the house, and the view we usually have from our veranda towards west (where we can usually see the hills or mountains in the far distance) – was replaced by the eerie dark grey haze. The weather had calmed down and a few hours later the smoke cleared up. Every morning since then it has been smokey in the morning – the local suburbs covered in haze – and then clears up when the day starts to heat up.
Bushfire weather is deeply unsettling. It feels as if a giant maniac hair dryer blows on the landscape all the time trying to ignite something. The wind is so hot is feels like it burns in the face. When that weather is on and the vegetation is all long haired, bushy and dry, like … I can’t come up with a metaphor, I don’t know anything else as dry as dry Australian vegetation … then the fact that most of the time, in most locations, nothing is actually acutely burning… seems like a bunch of miracles.
As for the smoke in west, it is saddening. I have actually been doing interviews in several of the suburbs in the area, so I’ve visited a number of homes out there and people were lovely and have lovely kids and pets, horses, farm animals… Some of the rural households are literally in the bush. It is beautiful where they live, and I can fully understand why people would want to live out there. However, they must be so worried right now, and some of the homes could be gone now or in the near future. Most certainly, they’ll know people whose homes have burned.
The magnitude of the destruction is hard to comprehend. Where I come from (Denmark), if a farmer has 300 ha of land then that is quite a big farm. He would typically have bought up at least 3-4 farm properties to get that much land (at least that is how it used to be). The biggest bushfire currently burning, the “State Mine Fire”** North-west of Sydney, covers 38 thousand ha. An almost unimaginable vastness of fire and ashes. Like Hell, just bigger and totally unfair.
A sight I hope I’ll never see in real life (this is Tasmania in January 2013). Photo from the Australian Emergency Management Knowledge Hub.
That is not really what I wanted to write about, but the bushfire situation is hard to ignore since it is so acute and dire and all over the news, and also visible in the horizon (well not right now, because it is dark outside). So, this is the post I wrote instead of the post I planned to write.