If a fire fighter knocked on your door and said, “The bushfire is approaching your village so we advise you to leave the area at once,” what would you take with you?
Of course, first priority would be people and animals. But then what?
Last Friday when we heard there was a bushfire headed our way, I drove to the safety of town with my children. But before we left, we packed the van with a few things we didn’t want to lose if our house burnt down.
I had all our important paperwork like birth certificates. I asked each of the kids to pack a couple of changes of clothes. We had our computers, phones, cameras and Kindles. I emptied the contents of Thomas’memory box into a bag. A friend suggested taking along some food and we made sure we had water bottles. We secured the animals into carriers and packed pet food. And then we left. Later conditions didn’t seem so bad and we were relieved to return home as evening approached.
The next day we were on bushfire alert again, awaiting another possible call to evacuate. This time I added extra things to our luggage: blankets and sleeping bags, a couple of video cameras, towels, toiletries and some more clothes. I discovered a box of photos I wanted to take too.
On Sunday, we were still watching and waiting, and things started to trickle out of the van and back into the house because we needed them: “Put everything back by the front door as soon as you finish using it,” I ordered. “We need to have everything we want to take, right at hand, just in case.”
But with more time to think, I also remembered a couple of other things I’d forgotten to pack. How could I have forgotten Thomas’ photo box?
So our van is sitting on the driveway, half packed with essentials, and there is also a pile of things stacked by our front door. And as we wait, I wonder if I have missed other things. There are so many things we could take. Some of them are irreplaceable like Thomas’ teddies. But I know we will have to walk away and leave them behind if we are asked to leave our home.
I remember reading a story about a woman who also pondered what she should take when she was told to evacuate. When the time came, she looked around her house, and then she and her husband just got in the car empty handed. “It was all important and none of it was important. I couldn’t make a decision so I just left it in God’s hands.” The bushfire went through their area, and the couple returned to see if they still had a home. It was intact with everything still inside.
I imagine it would be very tough losing all your possessions. We can say, “They’re only things. As long as my family is safe, nothing else matters.” But as the weeks and months go by, and the fact sinks in that we no longer have certain things, I think we would grieve. Things aren’t people but they do connect us to them. They are part of our lives and hold memories.
It’s day 5 of the bushfire disaster, and the fire is still out of control, getting bigger all the time. And we are still “Watching and Acting”, prepared to leave our home at a moment’s notice. A few of our neighbours are tired of being alert and on stand-by. They’ve abandoned their homes for the day to go and enjoy some time somewhere else. Perhaps they think nothing will change in their absence. Their homes will still be here later tonight. And I pray they will.
Even I am tempted to relax. I don’t want to leave home but I am tempted to unpack our things. I’m fed up. I don’t want to live out of a bag in my own house. I want to clean up the hallway, put everything away. I want life to return to normal. But I suppose unpacking wouldn’t be sensible. Unlike that woman in my story, I don’t want to leave here with empty hands. I want to save just a few things if I can.
Several more local villages to the NE of our bushfire have been added to the “Watch and Act” list. The fire is still growing and has now burnt over 14 000 hectares .
So we watch and we wait. And I am hoping that all that packing will turn out to have been totally unnecessary.
“What a waste of time,” we will say. “Nothing happened. All that worry for nothing!”
"There were other people in more danger than you," people will tell us. "Don't know why your village got so much attention. You really thought a fire fighter was going to knock on your door?" They will laugh at our foolishness.
And we will feel just a little sheepish that we debated so long over what to save.