Fire flies

I’m flying to Melbourne today to see my family. Here in Auckland there’s a gale force wind and it’s been raining all week. You’d never know it’s summer. Across the Tasman, three states have declared total fire bans and bushfire season is well underway.
A few years ago, I lived in the bush south of Sydney. On Christmas Day a huge firestorm swept through the National Park, burning three quarters of it (that’s a lot of trees – a lot of animals). I was in Melbourne, as usual, for Christmas lunch, and watched the fire front get closer to my house – on the TV news.
So on Boxing Day (or maybe it was the day after) my brother drove me back from the beach house in the middle of the night to the airport, I jumped on a plane, and went back to Sydney to defend my home.
Our town was blocked off by the fire. I had to leave the car across the water and get a ferry. By then the fire front was visible from the roof, heading our way. The sun was blood-red, like Mordor. I was the hobbit.
One day I’ll be able to describe what it’s like to choose a suitcase worth of your life – just enough to carry – and make the decision to leave everything else: thousands of books, paintings, memories, stuff. I’ve got a lot of stuff. Your grandmother’s sewing machine. The painting you did aged five that Dad had framed. Photos – hopefully someone else has the negatives. Gifts from lovers, from children, from friends. I’ve written before about choosing one book to save.
I had time to say goodbye. I had time to clear up the bush debris and soak the grass and climb on the roof with the hose to fill the gutters with water. I had night after night on watch, eyes streaming with the smoke, endless repetition on the fire warnings coming over the radio, endless hosing and raking and covering windows.
The fire stopped outside town. We were saved by a wind change and some very brave and dauntless fire fighters. We were driving through it for days, as the fire brigades mopped up: flames right next to the road, smoke spewing everywhere, until it rained at last.
It’s no coincidence that I’ve been writing a story about the Great Fire of London for the last few months, about random flames, power, smoke, ferocity and dread.
So my thoughts are with everyone in that town tonight (since the bush will have just grown back enough for the leaf litter to have built up again) and every other town facing the possibility of an inferno over the next few days.
As we say in Aussie, avagoodweegend.
The blog will be off the air while I deal with a roast lunch and plum pudding (probably in 35 degree heat, but we’re used to it).

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