Yesterday the village was accosted by the full force of the NSW Rural Fire Service Heavy industrial might. The service has been using the lull in the winds to do a lot of hazard reduction burning along the back road here to reduce the risk of crowning fires when the wind returns. Given that it was also a weekend, there were multiple units from all around the area, even one from Bundeena in the Royal Nation Park a few hours drive away.
With so many appliances on hand, a large area of bush between Balmoral village and Buxton was chosen for burning.
All went well until around 1.00 pm when the humidity dropped, the temperature rose and the wind picked up. Suddenly it was all a little bit out of hand and a huge plume of black smoke warned us that something was up. As this operation was to the north of the village, away from us, we were completely unaware of the situation. I was on the pottery roof, still trying to figure out a way to fireproof the old building by sealing all the little gaps here and there with improved galvanised metal flashing, especially to The North Face – The Hard Way. In full sun, at mid day on a hot tin roof.
The pottery roof is complex. A mansard configuration with several intersecting planes involving under cuts and deep reveals. All framed in timber and needing to be covered.
The first thing that I noticed was the fall of a lot of black ash and burnt leaves arriving on the tin roof around me. Then my neighbour rang my mobile to say his house was under ember attack. He is half a kilometre to the north and closer to the fire ground. It was another 15 minutes before the black plume became obvious to us. But then it was the noise of the helicopters. At first we couldn’t see them. Then one became two, and two became three. There was quite a percussive thrum in the air from the rotors, the smoke in the air, and the smell. It’s all a bit nauseating. Principally because we have lost two potteries to fire in our 45 years together. I hate the smell of wood smoke in the morning. But here we are again, in Coppola’s movie. Only this time it’s Eucalypts Now – reduction. The helicopters, the smoke, the noise. I’m feeling anxious – and bored! It’s weird, I want all this to be over. But I know that it’s not going to go away any time soon.
The road in and out is closed in both directions, North and South. We are well prepared, so we are stayingto fight. It’s like we are at war. And in a way we are. We are at war with nature, but it’s more than that. All this is man made, and made by man to be so much worse, 4 1/2 decades on from our first encounters with wild fire. Now it’s not just bad luck or ‘the drought’, as proclaimed by the coal hugging, happy clapper. And yes! Now is the time to talk about it! If not now, then when! We don’t need your prayers. We need leadership. We are at war with ourselves. Society is fractured down the middle. This is actually a subtle form of civil war. The Pro-coal carbon lobby and their profits at any cost, vs, the environment. Black jobs vs Green jobs. This is an extension of the culture wars. Playing loose and fast with the truth and the environment. And all the people who loose their homes are just so much collateral damage to the big institutional share holders.
If the heat, the noise and the smoke, and the embers and the ash weren’t enough.
Then the bombers arrived! Not with napalm, but red retardant, lumbering overhead in slow motion with the deafening, screaming noise from their jet engines thrust. Flaps down, flying so low that I can read the 911 phone number on the tail. Slowly, well as slowly as a jet can fly, and still stay in the air, circling the village. Two of them, huge DC 10 jet liners, water bombing the fire front. stopping the flames from encroaching on the buildings up the ridge, on the north western side of the of the road. They circle and dance in perfect choreography with a couple of other small fixed wing prop aircraft and the smaller helicopters. Someone is coordinating all of this aerial ballet, but I have no idea where from. Possibly from one of the helicopters? I have no idea. I’m certainly glad that they are though. I watch impotently. I have no part to play in this frightening, noisey, hectic scene from a real life war movie.
Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of noise and fury, signifying nothing.
The afternoon passes, the planes depart, the noise subsides, we wander next door to take up their invitation for a swim in the pool. We open a bottle of wine and share it together. I can only hear just the one small solitary chopper still working on into the dusk a long way off. The wind has changed and has blown the smoke away. it’s quiet. My mind begins to wander.Life is surreal. Suddenly it is as if nothing has ever happened. We water the veggies and pick some tomatoes for dinner. They are getting ripe earlier and earlier each year.Global Crisis – What global crisis!