photo credit

As Andy drove past the fire danger warning sign in our village, on his way home on Monday evening, he noticed a man moving the arrow up to the highest position: catastrophic. Catastrophic bushfire conditions were expected to arrive overnight. Later that evening, emergency text messages and phone calls confirmed the situation:

If you have received this message you are in an area that is forecast to have Catastrophic Fire Danger on Tuesday 8 January 2013.

For your survival, leaving early is the safest option. Leaving a bush fire prone area tonight or early tomorrow morning is recommended.

Make a decision about when you will leave, where you will go and how you will get there. Homes are not designed to withstand fires in catastrophic conditions.

Catastrophic conditions… very hot and windy weather. It’s been a few years since we last experienced such bushfire danger.

We decided to gather together a few belongings just in case we had to evacuate. What do you pack when there’s a chance you won’t be returning? Important papers, several changes of clothes, photos, laptop computers, back-up hard drives and USB sticks… and pet carriers waiting for three cats and a guinea pig.

As I looked around the house I thought, “Will our home still be here this time tomorrow night?” A bit melodramatic perhaps? Maybe not. We have learnt that fire is unpredictable, it comes out of nowhere without warning. It is certainly not prudent to say, “It could never happen to me.” Where we live, it could happen to anyone. We live in a village surrounded by bush, but even those living in town can face a fire. We know. That's where we used to live.

One Saturday morning a few years ago, I was looking out the window across the paddocks and noticed a huge fire front racing across the horizon. It was so close I could see the red flames leaping up and forward at a terrific pace, consuming everything that lay before them. Overhead a water bombing helicopter appeared. The water was released. The fire front was checked for a moment, and then it resumed its race through the trees.

I stood and stared. I didn’t panic or become anxious. There wasn’t time. I just stood there not believing what I saw.

We heard the fire had appeared out of nowhere, consuming everything in its pathway. It must have started in the bush and then raced through town, leaping the main road and then out across the paddocks and back into the bush… with the firefighters and helicopters hot on its tail.

photo credit

Our neighbour stood in our garden, looking over the paddocks at the smoke as he talked into his mobile phone. Then he turned to us and said, “My mother’s house… it’s gone.”

Lumps appeared in our throats. The unthinkable had happened, and to someone we knew.

But later that day, our neighbour appeared with a huge grin on his face: “They saved my mother’s house… right at the last moment. When I was on the phone, the flames were at the house. Everyone thought it was gone. My mother left the phone so I didn’t hear. A water bomber had arrived… just in time.”

I could feel my neighbour’s joy and relief.

The next day we drove around our town and saw evidence of the fire everywhere: a black burnt out pathway, and untouched houses marooned in the middle of total destruction. The firefighters had saved every house and there was no loss of life.

We no longer live in that house on the edge of town, overlooking the cow paddocks. We moved to our present village four years ago. When we decided to buy this house, of course the thought of bushfires passed through our minds. Did we really want to move into an obvious bushfire prone area? We remembered past years when friends were evacuated from this village. We looked around at the house nestled beside the bush and decided to buy it, despite the risks. Fires can happen anywhere in our area, even in town. We were prepared to live with the potential danger.

And so we have spent four wonderful years living with the bush as our backyard. You might have read my running stories and know my daughters and I run along the bush tracks most mornings. The kookaburras laugh as we run through the shade of the gum trees and wattle. Sometimes a startled kangaroo or wallaby will jump off the path and back into the bush at our approach. Down the main fire trail we run through clouds of orange butterflies. And when we finish our run and sit sipping our water, I look around and thank God for giving us such a beautiful place to live. Yesterday we wondered if our beautiful place would be destroyed.

Yesterday we prayed for everyone living in a bushfire prone area. Our friends prayed for us too. And the day passed and despite the bad conditions, we remained safe.

Today we woke to cooler temperatures. After a day of staying inside out of the sun, we decided to head out to the park for an early morning run. The national parks were closed to the public yesterday so we didn’t think it was prudent to run along the tracks. Instead we ran around the playing fields, a clearing in the trees. We could smell smoke in the air and a helicopter passed overhead on a patrolling mission, but there was no other sign that elsewhere fires are burning and life and property are still at risk.

Last night we watched a DVD about a married couple whose house had been destroyed in the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, a few years ago. Many people lost their lives unexpectedly in that fire which arrived without warning. This family had escaped the fire by heading to their dam, the only place on their property the fire didn’t touch. The program followed the building of their new home, an underground house built to withstand bushfires. Many friends came to help construct the building, all giving of their time freely, cheerfully and lovingly. Everyone obviously belonged to a close-knit community where helping neighbours comes naturally.

That’s what disaster does to a community. Everyone pulls together to fight a common enemy: the fire. And in the aftermath, there is no time for petty disagreements, criticisms, gossip, comparisons, ill-feeling… No, when you have survived something on the scale of a bushfire, the friendships become strong and loving. Everyone remembers and is thankful for what they still have. They know what is important.

This morning I signed into Facebook and there were dozens of comments and messages waiting for me to read: Did we survive the catastrophic bushfire conditions? Were we all okay? Friends and family were concerned and thinking of us. Prayers were being said. Yes, when life gets tough and disaster threatens, we can count on our friends. Love comes pouring forth.

Our disaster didn’t arrive… not this time. We could have looked back today and said, “Why were we so concerned? It wasn’t really going to happen to us. We overreacted.” Were those prayers not needed after all? More likely, they kept us safe.

Out of every disaster or threatened disaster comes good. Out of yesterday’s catastrophic bushfire conditions came love. Although I don’t want to live with disaster every day, wouldn’t it be wonderful to live with that love all the time? 

But why wait for a crisis? We could forget petty disagreements, criticisms, gossip, comparisons and ill-feeling. We could remember what is really important. We could pull together to fight a common enemy, not a bushfire but sin.  

We could focus on love.

PS This post was written, with thanks, for those people who showed me such love yesterday. BTW, I have never experienced petty disagreements or ill feeling with any of them. They are a great community of people!

This is a very poor image but you might be able to see the red/pink  marker which is our house, the surrounding dark coloured areas of bush, and the large rectangular playing fields and the tracks where we run.

This post is linked to the Catholic Bloggers Network Link-Up Blitz
Labels: ,

Post a Comment

  1. so glad everything is ok. it must be nerve wracking. i know we get nervous in tornado season or hurricane season when i lived on the coast. i loved reading about your runs with the kookabourras. Reminds me of that old song we sang in girl scouts growing up!

    1. Missy,

      Thank you so much for your prayers and concern over the past few days!

      I am sure if we were in an actual fire situation and on the point of evacuation, we would be very nervous and apprehensive, because it would be very frightening. Fire is so powerful and unpredictable. The Rural Fire Service impresses the need for us to make fire plans: "prepare, act, survive". If we know what to expect and how we plan to act if we are threatened, we should survive even if our property doesn't. I guess it's all about staying calm and not panicking, and then carrying out the plan.

      Do you have similar plans for the tornado and hurricane seasons? We've never lived anywhere where these are a danger. I wouldn't know what to do if one hit! We have bushfires and you have tornados. Maybe everyone has something they have to deal with.

      "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
      Merry, merry King of the bush is he,
      Laugh kookaburra, laugh kookaburra,
      Gay your life must be."

      I remember that song! See, I can quote all the words! We used to sing it in rounds. I wonder if the last line has been changed in recent times. I'm from a different era!

      Lovely to chat.

      God bless you!

  2. Hi Sue,
    I've been reading about these terrible wildfires in Australia and I'm glad you are okay. Today, I watched a video about a family who stood in the sea for three hours trying to avoid the fires. The kids were all huddled together - it was heartbreaking. They all survived thankfully.

    Your story shows the beauty of humanity when they work together to help one another. It's so uplifting to read stories like these.

    I am praying that these fires are stopped in their tracks. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

    God bless!

    1. Mary,

      Yes, there are so many heart breaking stories. Our younger girls were frightened just at the thought of having to evacuate. They were very sombre as we packed our bags. A parent's first instinct would be to protect her children, and when that seems impossible how difficult that must be. I'm so glad to hear that particular family survived. Survival stories make us cry in gratitude. They really make us see what is important.

      I guess natural disasters and other traumatic events act upon a community in the same way difficult times do on a family. When we have to rely on one another and suffer a traumatic experience together, we do grow closer to each other.

      Thank you for your prayers, Mary. I know wildfires are a threat in many parts of your country too over summer. I remember the ones in Colorado not so long ago. Isn't it lovely we can unite together in prayer and concern wherever we live in the world?

      God bless!

  3. I've been praying for all of you! I can't imagine the fear and anxiety that one must feel, waiting to see if the fire turns their way. Keep us posted.

    1. Noreen,

      I have really appreciated your comments on FB and your prayers. Thank you!

      We spent a lot of Tuesday looking at weather forecasts and bushfire incident reports. It was a bit stressful! But for us, the reports were good. I know friends who, in past years, had to evacuate their homes. It would be very difficult to be somewhere else, not knowing what is going on at home, and wondering if there will be a home to return to.

      Always good to chat with you! Thank you for stopping by.

      God bless!

  4. Saw the fires on the news last night - praying for you!

    1. Hi Beate!

      While we were packing a few belongings 'just in case', Sophie said, "I don't think a fire will affect us. I prayed to St Joseph to keep us safe. You know how He always looks after our family." We got through the catastrophic day without incident thanks to St Joseph and all the prayers of our friends!! Thank you so much.

      God bless!

  5. Wow, what a story. I'm happy for the good outcome - thanks to St. Joseph, whose picture I'm looking at rigth now. But seeing the photos on your blogs, I do understand why you choose to live there anyway. It is so beautiful and always changing.
    And yes why do we need catastrophes (or near-disasters) to show us how dependent we are on God and our fellow humans. I second your emotion to remember this in our everyday life.

    1. Uglemor,

      St Joseph really is a wonderful patron saint for families. I am sure his intercession helped us find our current home.

      It is sad that we have to get to the point of nearly losing everything before we begin to appreciate the gifts God gives us, and love the people in our lives more fully. Yes, every day we should turn to God, and also spread some joy amongst our fellow humans. I must go and tell someone I love them!

      Thank you for your comment, Uglemor.

      God bless!

  6. Sue, because of my crazy week, I have been mostly away from the blogs, and so I am just now reading this post. I had no idea that the bush fires were threatening your home and village in such a major way. I thank God that you were all spared..and hope the fires are under control now. I live in south Louisiana. In fact, my hometown is New Orleans, where the dreadful hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, killing 1800 people, and leaving much of the city under water.

    These acts of nature can be so swift and unexpected and literally carry away lives, and lifetimes of memories in only a moment.

    The picture you posted of the fire is truly amazing. Thank God you were all spared!

    I love the way you wrote your post...about how these disasters can really bring people together, and bring out the best in others. How true that is!

    What a beautiful place you must live...with kangaroos popping up :) and clouds of orange butterflies. And I suppose you've seen a koala bear or two? Here they are only in the zoo :(

    Well, I'm seem to be falling asleep for some reason, so I'll just wish you a lovely weekend...and I'm still loving my daisy :) Blessings and hugs..

    1. Patricia,

      It is so good to see you back here on my blog. I hope that means your pain is subsiding. I've been praying!

      The first two photos are just stock photos, not mine, but they are of real fires. Actually, I think the first is of a controlled backburning fire. A real out-of-control fire is even more horrific. I am sure there has been frightening coverage of the bushfires on TV but we haven't personally seen any fires so far this season.

      I am happy to report it is cool and drizzling!!The firefighters will be so relieved by the change in weather. They'll be able to get some of the many fires burning around our state under control. Fires seem to break out suddenly all over the place. We've had one burning 4 Km away but it didn't take long for the fighters to get it under control, so no immediate danger to us.

      The bushfire season lasts until the weather cools down in autumn (around March)so as long as the weather is hot, we'll have to be careful. But we all live with the risk and our firefighters are wonderful people.

      When we were running on Friday morning, I was thinking about the beauty of the bush and park and where we live. I was wondering if it only looked beautiful to me. We all come from such different environments. Maybe others wouldn't be so enthusiastic about our landscape especially when it is hot and dry and dusty! No one can resist a kangaroo or koala though!

      Sending back a hug. God bless you!

  7. I have been really out of touch this week. You are in my prayers! I am glad you are ok.

    1. Colleen,

      It's no wonder you've been out of touch, having had a medical procedure. You've had other things to think about! I do appreciate your prayers. Today it rained a little and it's cooler. Beautiful!

      God bless.


Author Name

Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Powered by Blogger.