We have spent this 5th week continuing on the long journey of cleaning up this tragic mess. Last week we had the 3 big dead pine trees felled professionally. This week we hired a portable ‘Lucas’ saw mill and started milling the biggest of the pine logs into boards, so that we can incorporate this home-grown and home-milled timber into the lining of our new pottery, when we build it.
We cut nine x 75mm. thick slabs in one day and 90 planks of 250mm. x 30mm. on the 2nd day. The big 75mm. thick slabs are 3 metres long, and 700mm. to 900mm. wide. They will make great work bench tops in one single slab. We will use one in the pottery as a work bench and another for a wedging table. Perhaps a third in the gallery room. I intend to use the planks vertically, as lining boards in the throwing room.
We also cleaned up the stone fruit orchard and took the dead peach trees away to the big burn pile. It’s going to be a huge job in the winter time to burn all this fire affected material. That is if we get a winter, that is safe to burn off these piles.
Our vegetable garden, although fire affected, is still just producing a few tomatoes, capsicums and zucchinis. The sweet basil, and chillies on the other hand are booming. They love the hot dry weather.Every meal at the moment is a variation on ratatouille.
At last we are starting to engage ourselves in jobs that have a positive element.
We celebrate a very tough couple of extremely hot days in the full sun, rolling logs and milling them through the whole of these blisteringly hot days. Lathered in sunblock and drinking copious bottles of water, we can’t afford to stop. The mill is expensive to hire at $800 to $1000 per day. Any time spent sitting down eats into our meagre budget. I will be a lot happier after we have heard from the insurance company, and find out what they intend to do. They have emailed us to say that they will payout for the lost equipment in the pottery and kiln shed. but we haven’t seen any money as yet. No mention of the building as yet. In the mean time, turning dead trees into useful lumber is a rewarding endeavour. I’m hoping that I will sleep better, simply from the effort expended and the exhaustion.
Last week we pulled down the 3 chamber wood kiln and the small single chamber wood kiln. We dismantled these kilns brick by brick and roughly cleaned the bricks, then wheel-barrowed them off the site and stacked them ready for reuse at some date well into the future when we have another pottery built. We still have the large two chamber wood kiln and the large old brick chambered gas kiln, that I havent fired for 30 years, still to be removed. Although I haven’t fired that old gas fired brick kiln for so many years, I found it to be very useful as a storage vault for paints and thinners. All the dangerous and volotile thinners survived in there intact through the fire, while the building burnt down around them. Kilns are really marvelous things. Heat can’t get out of a kiln very easily when it is firing, and the reverse is also true. Heat can’t get in there either. I’m living proof of that. In the coming months we will be building a gabian ceramic wall along the front of the property, facing west as a fire radiation barrier. In preparation the the next fire event in 6 to 10 years.We can’t make any plans about the new pottery building until we hear from the insurance company. The first thing we need, is to know what our budget will be. Then we can make firm plans. In the meantime. I am planning to build a kit-form metal carport that we can use as a temporary work area for the reconstruction of the pottery in due course.
Our son Geordie took some time off work to come and help us cut up some of the big stumps and load them onto the ute to get them off-site and onto the wood pile
The site with the buildings removed and just the kilns remaining.
Starting to dismantle the tunnel kiln
The old gas kiln. We haven’t fired it in 30 years, as gas is a fossil fuel and adds to global worming. We chose not to use it. We have always been committed wood firers. We have 7 acres and half of this is, or was forest. Wood is a renewable and manageable resourse of atmospheric carbon. Long ago, we decided to move away from the simple convenience of gas as a fuel. 13 years ago we installed solar panels and have been a solar powered household and business since then. Most recently I built a solar powered electric kiln that fired to stoneware in reduction, using a very small amount of LPG, just to create the reduction atmosphere. We used between 250 grams and 450 grams of LPG for reduction. This gave us 20 to 30 firings out of a small 9kg. SwapnGo BBQ bottle . Both our electric kilns were destroyed in the fire.
A fat stock of thinners, unharmed in the kiln, including turps and acetone.
The stack of paving tiles that we lifted and stacked two weekends ago with a group of pottery students and partners
The stack of kiln bricks that we lifted last weekend. Seperated into light Refractory insulators, heavy solid firebricks and red house bricks.We had a fantastic group of people from the Extinction Rebellion movement here this last weekend. They were totally wonderful people.They are not only committed to making society aware of the danger and ramifications of the global heating crisis, but they are also committed to doing good works in society, helping everyday people in a host of different ways. Helping people like us cope with and recover from the bushfires comes within their gambit.
The pottery site with only 2 kilns left. I’m thinking that I might keep the tall chimney from the tunnel kiln on the left as a totem of our youthfull endeavour and folly.
We are now one month into this new life journey. Strange times indeed. A vast expanse of the East coast forest has been burnt over the past couple of months. What I find extraordinary is that most of this destruction happened in spring, this is just the beginning of summer now. We are not into the fire season proper, yet there is so little left to burn. I can’t see it getting any worse when the really hot weather arrives! Certainly not here anyway.
We are so lucky to have such an amazing group of friends, who have gathered around and pitched in to help us with the clean-up. One month in and I have repaired or replaced the water reticulation system. This was all made of cheap plastic ‘poly-pipe’ and was badly effected by the fire. It was almost totally buried underground, however it wasn’t buried deep enough. I dug all the trenches by hand over a long period of time in the 70’s using a spade and a mattock. Six metres per day in the early morning before work. There was around 1000 metres of piping burried in this way over the years. I realise now that I should have put more effort in, but one man can only do so much.
We have almost finished clearing away all the burnt trees and shrubs around the house. We won’t re-plant them. With an eye to the future, and the likely-hood of another fire like this returning in the next 6 to 10 years being very high to almost certain. We have decided to keep the front of our land facing West almost completely clear and being just mown grass. With the global heating crisis continuing unabated and both government and the opposition totally in the grip of big carbon business interests, they are all still completely in denial. Even if there was some small degree of change right now, the amount of carbon already in the atmosphere will take all of my life time to filter it’s way through the system. My current circumstances are the living collateral damage of this dinosaur-like attitude of denial.
The way that the under growth litter builds up in this area, it takes around 4 years to develop a depth that can sustain a fire, then up to 6 years for the depth of flammable litter to increas, until it stabilises at around 6 to 7 years. This means that we can expect another fire of this magnitude in as little as 4 years, and certainly within 10 years. We have to live with this reality and plan accordingly. The national parks that surround us here are not going to go away or change radically, so we live in a ticking time bomb of fuel and potential fire hazard. This fire will return. We have been discussing if or how we might build a ceramic wall on the west to protect us from future radiant heat in the next fire. We may build a ‘gabian’ wall to effect this small level of protection. Time will tell.
The insurance company has sent in a demolition team to wreck the old building structure and reduce the site to ground level.
We have started thinking about how or what we will be able to re-build in the future. We can only think about what we might do at this stage, as we are unable make any decisions at the current time, until we get some sort of decision from the insurance company. We have nothing on paper as yet, just a few phone calls. I’d like a decision so that I can move on and start to be creative, not just stuck in stasis.
As we have nothing to work with, the first priority will be to build a simple carport, so that I can have a covered space to set up a workbench and a vise. This will allow me start to make the parts that I will need to be able to rebuild everything – eventually.
This is quite a different road to travel now. I wasn’t expecting this a few months ago. We had organised to sell our kiln building company – ‘Hot and Sticky Pty Ltd’ to a local couple, and were planning to spend this January working with them, teaching them how to fabricate and fit out our special kiln designs. Luckily for them the transaction was due to take place on the 6th of January, so they didn’t loose any money.
On the plus side, I’m much better at driving a bobcat now. Maybe a potential new career change? ‘Load and Lumpy’. I’m also much more experienced at chain-sawing burnt, dead trees after a month on the saw. ‘Stihl crazy after all these years’.
The tree surgeons have been and taken down the 3 big, dead, pine trees that were growing over the house. Pine trees don’t suffer wildfire very well. They don’t recover from fire the way that eucalypts do.
After the catastrophic fire had passed through here on the 20th and the emergency was almost over. The pottery had burnt down, I had put out the fire in the railway station. I was then fully occupied in carrying buckets of water over to the barn to throw them on the fire there. The pump on the barn failed after an hour or so. So carrying buckets over there was my only option. After two hours of that I was bushed and the fire wasn’t out, but still just smouldering. Whenever I stopped for breath and the wind blew up. The fire re-kindled into life. It wasn’t until I unscrewed the corrugated iron sheeting off the wall, and got the next passing fire truck to stop and squirt water into the smouldering hollow of there large hardwood post, that the fire was finally out over there.
I was so shocked and tired, exhausted really. I wandered back to the house to find that a couple of dead pine tree branches half way up the tree were on fire and were smouldering and bursting into flame when ever the wind gust came from the East. Blowing them into life and a flurry of sparks and flames would emerge from the branch, showering red hot embers down onto the roof of the house. I still had the house pump running on low, just to keep the roof and gutters wet, but I soon realised that I didn’t have enough water or petrol to last the night. I couldn’t sleep in the house with embers dropping on the bedroom roof like that! I had saved my house and escaped death in the conflagration by hiding in my kiln. I couldn’t give up now!
I had to do something. I wasn’t about to let the house burn down after all I had already done. I decided that my only option was to get the big extension ladder and climb the tree, and chop off the offending branches. I have a whipper/ snipper gadget to which I can add an extension bar, plus a small chainsaw attachment on the end. I climbed the ladder and stepped onto the next tree branch up, then held the chain saw as far above my head as I could reach, directly overhead, to saw off the branch. I closed my eyes and cut the branch off. It whistled down past my ear, missing my shoulder, then bounced off the ladder, landing on the ground, shattering and bursting into flames and setting fire to the grass at the foot of the ladder.
I managed to cut off both branches and climb down through the fire to run to the house and wet my clothes. I lay on my bed and starting shaking. This was the most terrifiying thing that I had to do on that day. Indeed, in my entire life. I was pretty shattered by the effort that it took me. It wasn’t like the fire front coming through, I just did that without thinking. Cutting the pine tree branches off was an act of willpower. To really risk my life in real time, to save my house. The effort that it took me at the end of such a traumatic day really broke me.
I went to bed, but couldn’t sleep. I just lay there shivering, but I wasn’t cold. I didn’t know what was happening. I realised later that this was some sort of reaction to the shock of the days events.
I was completely shattered. I had saved my house from the catastrophic wild fire – twice, and now it could have burnt down from the other direction, from a moderate easterly breeze. Unbelievable!
The electrical power was re-connected after 5 days. A massive effort by the power crews, they almost got in finished before Xmas, but not quite. So we were back connected to the grid the day after Xmas holiday. We were not totally without power, as after a couple of days in the dark, a friend dropped by with a small generator. So we could run the fridge and save everything in the freezer compartment.
So many people have offered to give us a hand with a days labour in the coming weeks and months. We have already had my best friends Len Smith and Warren Hogden here a couple of times to get us started. Thank you guys!!! You got us up and working, dragging me out of my lethargy and shock.
We started the epic journey of the clean-up. Janine and I had begun raking and scraping up bits of the massive load of charcoal, rubble, ash and dead, burnt shrubs and small trees. We worked and worked, with little impact. However, after a couple of days, my friend Ross, who works in earth moving and has an excavator and tip truck, turned up one evening. He told me that he would be working with the excavator for the next week, so he had brought his ‘bobcat’ skid steer loader for me to borrow until he needed it.
I had borrowed one of his bobcats some years ago to do a bit of earth moving, to create our new expanded vegetable garden. So I knew a little bit about working with these amazing machines. Once you get used to the various levers and buttons, it starts to become 2nd nature. I was up to speed by the second day. Two levers, one for each hand, each with 5 functions, plus two foot pedals. It’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, but by the end of that first week we had made some sort of impression.
More friends have turned up for a day or two here and there and Ross came back with his tip truck and did a lot of heavy digging and lifting. So now after two weeks of pretty intensive work, we have the front yard looking pretty clean now – although devastated.
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