Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Limbo land

Like most people in the Huon Valley right now, we sit and wait. Wait to find out if our homes will be spared from an approaching inferno. We wonder how all our friends are faring. I worry about everything, real (like whether my chickens still have any water) and imagined. It's quite nerve wracking. Today, Walkley award-winning cartoonist First Dog on the Moon, who lives on the other side of the river from us, posted a series of vignettes accurately summing up how it feels to be here.

A couple of weeks ago, David and I were sitting at our kitchen bench after dinner, when a large black cloud moved overhead and we heard rolling thunder in the distance. It was pretty impressive, and a sound we don't hear often in Tasmania. We looked out the window to see great bolts of lightning far to the south west of us. Shortly afterwards the Tasmanian Fire Service web site lit up with alerts. It turned out those dry lightning strikes sparked a lot of fires around the state, particularly in the south west wilderness area. Many miles from us.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, it's a Wednesday night and we (David and I and the two dogs) have been staying with dear, kind friends in Huonville since Sunday night. A week ago, some fires started by that lightning had spread to become a larger one that threatened the Tahune Airwalk, a tourism attraction attraction run by Forestry Tasmania. Yesterday, photos revealed some of the damage it sustained. The smoke last Tuesday was awful, although the fire was still around 17km from our house. We put our bushfire survival plan into action, packed important documents like insurance papers, some clothes, toiletries, dog food, the chainsaw (in case of fallen trees), computer backups and so on. Both cars were ready to go. David cleared all our gutters and removed anything wooden or explosive from around the house. One of our neighbours who lives on her own was very anxious and starting calling or texting me every hour, asking "should we go yet"? But the alert level in our area was just "watch and act", with no need to evacuate. You just need to prepare and stay informed.

Last Friday was expected to be a horror day for bushfires, with temperatures around 36 degrees and high winds. At that point, our friends Scott and Karla made the offer that should we need to evacuate, we could bring the dogs and stay with them. I was so grateful, but as Friday passed and was fairly uneventful, we didn't really think we'd need it. But by Sunday the fire was a lot closer, and our power went out in the afternoon. We couldn't see what was coming, and facing the prospect of no water or electricity up in the hills near forestry, we decided it was time to leave.

So now we're now waiting, waiting, in a kind of limbo land. It seems quiet, we know our home is still there (our security camera at the front door is still sending images), but we also know the nearest fire in the last 24 hours was at best guess 1.8km from our house (see map below where I've circled our house in red). It doesn't take much for that to turn bad and the TFS agrees. So for now we are staying put. It's hard to concentrate on anything. I am constantly checking everything from the TFS alerts to ABC Radio bushfire emergency updates at quarter to the hour, Facebook (more on that separate disaster zone later) to weather apps and the Sentinel Hotspots site, hoping to glean information. Or we are checking in on friends, calling, texting or popping in to visit those who are camped at the evacuation centre at Huonville PCYC. It's kind of shocking to see your town's name on the TV list of emergency zones - see photo below.

The first big lesson I've learned so far is not to underestimate the amount of time you may be away from home if you have to evacuate in an emergency. We packed enough fresh clothes for maybe four or five days, but the friends we are staying with once had to evacuate for three weeks from a fire in NSW! We really thought that in three days either we would have lost our home or the danger would have passed and we could go home. Now I see how this could easily stretch on, with peak bushfire season in Tasmania being in February and so many fires out of control in wilderness areas that could potentially encroach on population centres.

The second thing this has shown me is the incredible support that people give each other in times of crisis. So much kindness, generosity and plain smart thinking. We live in a wonderful community. I am in awe of the firefighters trying to keep this beast at bay and keep people and property safe. And the helicopter pilots, the police, the volunteers and local council and so many others. Tensions are high and they must be truly exhausted in these conditions. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts.


Friday, January 18, 2019

To the end of the world and back

Tasmania certainly felt like the end of the world to me this week, after spending more than 23 hours in the air and around 7 hours in airports to travel home from a business trip to New York. It's longer on the way back. It takes only (!) 19 hours in the air to get there, and it also feels shorter as you arrive the same day you left, thanks to the international date line. Then on the way back a whole day is erased from your calendar somehow (what happened to my Sunday??) and every time I feel somehow ripped off. The flight wasn't the only shock to the system, as the temperature at home the day before I left was 36 degrees Celsius (97F) and -6C (21F) when I arrived in New York! I feel very lucky to be able to travel to meet my peers and leadership team and experience different parts of the world. This time, I stayed in the lower east side for a couple of nights and managed to hit the New Museum, a couple of distilleries, the northern end of Central Park and some Jewish food spots. I love NYC to bits.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Hazy days of summer

The evening before last we sat at the kitchen bench eating dinner, as a large black cloud moved across the sky, wiping out the afternoon sunshine. Then the thunder rolled in, in great heavy waves, with brilliant flashes of lightning to the south of us. The storm wasn't close, but still impressive. Shortly afterwards, the Tasmanian Fire Service web site lit up with alerts of bushfires all around, across the river and in the great wilderness to the west. One was quite close to us in Glen Huon, but by the next morning it had dropped off the alerts list. Since then the smell of smoke has hung thickly in the air and the mountain range we normally look out at has disappeared behind the smoke. There's more hot weather forecast. I hope everyone stays safe.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

NYE in the country

Happy new year! Last night we spent the evening with a lovely bunch of locals at some friends' place just down the road. The weather smiled on us and the freshly mowed paddock was the place to be on a long summer evening. We ate delicious pizzas from an outdoor oven, lamb slow cooked over an open fire and fabulous desserts (I so love banoffee pie), enjoyed with celebratory beer or sparkling in hand. Dogs and kids running round and round and playing near the dam. Standing around the fire pit at midnight with the stayers waving sparklers. The sky was clear and we watched the International Space Station go overhead. I'm not keen on fighting crowds, travelling far or paying crazy money to be near big fireworks on New Year's Eve. Low key, low stress and nearby is definitely the way to go. All the best to you and yours for 2019.