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.
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.
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