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.
We have been without power for the best part of a week, as all the power poles and wires were burnt down for 15 km. So I could only post to the blog from my phone. No email letters. Sadly we were burnt out in the catastrophic bush fire that swept through Balmoral Village last Saturday. Luckily I was able to save the house, but the Pottery, kiln shed, the kiln factory and the wood shed were all burnt. I have started to clean up the mess, but it will take some time – and money. I think that it will take 12 months to get all this cleaning up done, get building plans passed through Council, then build a new pottery, and then finally collect some pottery equipment to get re-startted and build a new kiln. This last part I can do!
We have been offered several bits and pieces of pottery equipment, two kick wheels, a slab roller and a shimpo, so we are well on our way.Thank you to all of you who have donated money or offered help or equipment.We are very gratefull to you all. I don’t like the idea of receiving charity, but in this instance, I know that my time and resourses are limited. This is the third pottery that we have lost to fire in our 45 years together. I dont want to spend the next 5 years scrounging 2nd hand materials and building almost everything myself, like I had to last time.I was just 32 , so much younger back then, and with plenty of energy. I had plenty of time, but no money. I assume that I only have 10 to 12 productive working years left in me. I need to get this done faster this time, so that I can get back to my real work.
I’m also aware that the national Park is not going away. The global heating crisis is going to keep on getting worse. Each fire is getting bigger, hotter, more devastating, lasting longer.Another fire will come back in the next decade, and next time it will be worse. I need to start preparing now. We will build entirely in metal.Our first pottery was a rented weather board shed. It burnt.We moved to Balmoral and decided to build with 2nd hand vertical galvanised iron sheeting for the walls. it burnt.This last pottery was built out of mud bricks, surely that will be safer? but the roof was framed in timber. It burnt! So this time it will be a cheap, kit-form gal iron frame farm shed barn. Cheap and ugly, but hopefully, more fire resistant.We need to design and build something that can withstand this kind of fire in the not too distant future.
Thank you for all the messages of good will. I’m sorry that I can’t reply personally to each of you individually. There are just so many of you. At least I’m feeling well enough again now to be able to write this. My lungs got a bit affected from the heat, ash, soot and smoke. We anticipate that we will have a couple of working bees to get some of the tedious cutting, clearing, carting and stacking done. If you are interested, please send me an email. Thank you all for your kindness and support.
There is a ‘gofundme’ site that our friends have set up for us. see below.
The title ‘Burnt out’ is not a description of our buildings on this ocation, but more an apt description of me at the present time. Best wishes Steve
My very good friends, Len Smith and Warren Hogden, help me clean up the old wood shed site. There is nothing there except the vertical stand of the brand new hydraulic wood splitter and some burnt iron.
We lost most of our buildings, except our house on Saturday. The fire was too big, too hot, too fast. I had intended to get all the fire fighting sprinklers going on full , then leave when the fire approached. I had the dedicated petrol powered, fire fighting pumps already running on low to conserve both fuel and water. This may go on for several more days.
Suddenly, when all hell broke loose, I needed to get around to each pump, turn it up to full, and turn on the extra sprinklers on the walls facing the fire front.
By the time that I got around all 4 buildings, it took a few minutes, the driveway and the road was on fire. I couldn’t get out. I abandoned the truck, got our and ran with my bag, to the temporary makeshift shelter that I had constructed the day before, just in case of such an emergency.
I climbed in as the fire raged past burning all in its path. I could see the flames through the cracks in the joints. Thé air was orange red and filled with smoke. It was difficult to breath normally, very hot and acrid Smokey air. My breathing is still affected, I’m still coughing up stuff.
I’m very lucky to be alive. I lost my pottery and kiln business, but saved my life.
The fire storm hit at 1.00 pm today, taking almost everything in its path. Everything caught on fire at once. It was horrific. Nightmares are made of this. There was no warning! Just total explosion of everything in the garden all at once. I have now witnessed total catastrophic ember attack.
It burnt down our pottery building, our kiln factory, and our woodshed. the house survived. It came so fast that in a few minutes that it took me to start the pumps and turn on all the sprinklers . The road was on fire and the driveway was alight. I had already grabbed my bag and started the truck, but realised that I needed another plan.
Luckily, yesterday, in a calm moment, It crossed my mind that I needed a plan B. So I built a makeshift Raku kiln from ceramic fibre parts that I had around. Big enough to lay down in, and behind a stone wall for radiation protection.
I grabbed my bag from the Ute and ran down to my ‘hide’. I crawled inside with my bag full of hard drives and laptop + back up disks. I had prepared it with a bucket of water, drinking water, a fire blanket and an extinguisher. I was able to watch the firestorm pass over me. All the tree canopies were in flame as the fire ‘crowned’ over me.
A terrifying golden radiation glow illuminated everything. I must admit to being too scarred to look back to see if the house was on fire. Quite literally, everything else was. The pottery burnt down as I watched, then that set fire to the kiln shed.
During the 20 minutes that I was hidden in the makeshift ‘kiln’, I drank my water bottle dry. More from shock and distress than thirst, as I wasn’t at all hot. Heat can’t get out of kilns, so it can’t get in either. I was safe.
When the pottery was well Alight. I decided that discretion was the better part for me to play, as the pottery was straight in line with my kiln-like ‘hide’. I crawled out of my ‘kiln’, and made a run for the house, which was luckily still safe. I realised that the railway station was on fire in the roof. I used one of the spare hoses to put it out.
I had set up 4 different Petrol powered high pressure fire fighting pumps. Two failed, because the inlet suction hose was made of poly pipe, and it melted. A hard lesson there. the best laid plans!
Still. I survived , due to my fore-thought with the small coffin kiln. I’m here to tell the tale.! I have no internet, no power, all the power poles burnt. I have my house.
Pity about the Power House job, that will be history now,
I count my blessing’s and my improvised kiln building skills.
I regret that i don’t know what has happened n the rest of the village. Time will tell. It cant be a pretty sight, I’m sure!
Yesterday the fire came up the gully behind the house with the wind driving it from the north east. It was blown away from us yesterday, and today it is being blown back towards us.
The sun rose a scary orange and the air is thick with smoke. A big plume of smoke announced the fires return with the hot wind and lower humidity.
My neighbours were not able to return home after work from the previous day, so I rang them and offered to feed and water their dogs. The asked me to bring the dogs to Mittagong for them, but if I leave I won’t be able to return here, as the village is in lock-down.
We made an agreement to meet in neutral territory at the road block. Stop and park and walk to the neutral zone and hand over the dogs. It was like a James Bond movie. The spy who came in from the heat. The hardest part was trying to get two German-sheprds into my ute cab. The dogs don’t take orders from me. It was quite an effort, but we got there and managed the hand over. The cops were nice, but strict.
I made another arrangement later in the day with Janine to meet her at the border. She had purchased another roll of al-foil for me to complete the garlic bread like wrap-up of the front of the house. I took a photo for ‘Christo’. I now have all doors and windows facing North and West, plus the weatherboards facing west.
Luckily for us, there was an early and concerted effort by both air and ground crews to keep the damage to a minimum. No houses lost that I know of at the moment. But the total stands at 20 houses lost, two firemen dead and 5 in hospital badly injured.
We had both of the large ‘Elvis’ water bombing helicopters working over us all day. They lumber over with their jet engines screaming louder than the heavy percussive pulse and thud of the rotors. They fly very low and quite fast. I can hear them way before they appear from behind the trees, a sweep over.
I wasn’t aware that there were two of the large ‘Elvis’ style helicopters. They flew so low that I could read the numbers on their fuselage. We had Nos. 730 and 520 here yesterday.
We also had three large choppers with water buckets on long lines. They seemed to make less motor noise, but more percussive rotor ‘thud’. Its amazing how I could feel it in my chest when they approached, but this disappeared when they wore over head. Then there was more motor noise.
I had the roof sprinklers on from 12.30 when the ember started to fall, till 5.30 when it had more or less stopped. I learnt something. My fire pumps can run for 5 hours on low throttle, running the roof sprinklers on one tank of fuel.
Wetting the roof like this kills the energy of the embers as they pass through the spray, but the water also keeps the gutters filled with water, as it is collected and returns back to the tank through the gutting system.
I used 1/4 of my water tank storage and 1/4 of my petrol reserves. I can hold out for 3 more days at this rate.
We are surrounded by fire now on three sides, West North and East. Todays wind will be 40 km/hr. from the West. Very bad. I plan to set the pumps and roof and wall sprinklers going and evacuate to the fire shed, ‘safe area’ in the village as soon as the big black plume appears.
Embers to the left of me, embers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle you fuel.