Thursday, March 19, 2009

No doubt many of you out there are aware of the fires that swept through parts of SE Australia a few weeks ago.

A great friend of mine, Mark, has a mate who lost his house that day, and on Sunday afternoon, after a quick surf, he made the 3 odd hour drive north to be with his friend when he was finally allowed to return to his home.

You see, the whole area has been a crime scene now for weeks, with the prospect of new bodies being found real enough to prohibit entry to the area until last weekend.

When they got there and surveyed the damage, Mark heard the full story of what happened. It took 3 hours to relay what took place in three minutes, and on Monday Mark gave me a call just to get it off his chest.

They have a rule of thumb down here based around preparation, risk assessment and common sense. Boiled down it is stay and fight the fire to protect your home if you're confident it can be done, or pack up all essentials well before hand and have an evacuation plan that has everyone in a safe zone before fire is anywhere near you.

Mark's friend had decided to fight, and his family was far away and safe. He had four full tanks of water, plus a swimming pool, and had sprinklers bathing the house while he patrolled the perimeters putting out embers and generally keeping an eye on things.

The fire front was visible as hilltop smoke seven kilometres away, with the wind blowing northwest, away from the property.

He remembers thinking he was going to be fine.

He says he saw two signs that he ignored, maybe through tiredness, but should have been his signals to get out of there fast.

The first was the smoke in the distance 'standing up'.

The second was a flock of birds that had landed in his pool.

They suddenly disappeared.

Standing in the 46C (116F) heat he felt the wind suddenly shift and the temperature go up to over 60C (140F+), a blast of hot air on a boiling hot day, and he knew he was in trouble.

He ran inside to grab the dog, and within two minutes it hit. The dog started going mad, he ran downstairs to find jets of flame roaring through and out of every outlet of his ducted heating system, and jets of flame even coming through the keyholes in his doors.

The windows started to burst.

The fire had cannon balled across that seven kilometres in less than 2 minutes, the wind and fire feeding each other and covering that space at 200 kilometres an hour, a blast furnace that was hitting well in excess of 1400 degrees C.

He ran through the house and jumped fully clothed through a plate glass window at the back, using the wind shadow of the rear of the house for protection as he dashed into the carport where the car was waiting with the engine running.

In that short sprint he breathed twice, his throat scorching so much he had to simply not breathe, and he lost two of the three layers of clothes he was wearing as they burnt off. His bead was covered in a motorcycle helmet and wet towels, with gloves on his hands.

Speeding down the road through the fireball, he had to take peeks over the dash as the radiant heat was unbearable. His car windows began to shatter around him.

On top of that the road had begun to melt, the tires were sinking into it, making steering doubly difficult given he was driving both blind through smoke and flame and because he had to hide.

Only his familiarity with the road saved his life.

He made it, obviously, though his dear old dog did not.

When he and Mark surveyed the damage they found a pool of metal with a high tensile steel spring sitting in the middle.

The lawn mower.

His Massey Ferguson tractor was slumped in the middle.

Water tanks had flowed into molten streams.

A row of nails sat on the ashes in perfect alignment, exactly where they fell as the deck vapourised.

The steel storage shed still stood tall, but almost everything in it was ash. The fire got underneath the walls and it was torched from without and within.

Every non metallic external part of the car he drove through the fire is melted.

His family was safe. He was safe.

Clearly the car radiator worked.

I listened to Mark tell me this on Monday morning and you could tell what he's seen had shaken him through, and for me even getting it third hand drove home how much we have to respect this brown land we live in. After 200 years it still throws things at the most experienced of us that utterly surprise in the deadliest possible way.

Six hours north on the same day people were drowning in floods.

The pic is from an area on our coast that has been torched almost as badly as the recent fires, several times in the past few years.

It will come back.


Lee said...

Mate thats some heavy shit, got friends from my time in vic and nsw they are ok but shaken. youre right though it will grow back and the locals are a tough lot who will overcome support each other. Best wishes to all those that have lost their home or worse.

On a lighter note thanks for the post not been in for three months but that might be no bad thing in this country, and youre right i wouldnt miss the little fella growing up for anything, although it feels like im at work too much.(but it has always felt like that anyways!!)

tres_arboles said...

Vivid, Mick. Awesome change-up. Have a great weekend.


Ramsnake said...

The stories coming out of that terrible episode are extraordinary and scary.
My partner Michelle and I are in the process of building a house for ourselves on a forested hillside in Denmark in WA.
We spent weeks and a large amount of money burning off and clearing the block to be adjudged needing to build to AS 3959 Level 1 bushfire zone construction.
I think we will be building ourselves a bunker too though.

Jason said...

Brought back some horrific memories of our recent SoCal firestorms. Cheers to you and your mates and best wishes to everyone who was affected by those horrible fires.

Whiffleboy said...

Mick, that was a crazy read. Thanks for sharing that so vividly.

surferbrat said...

Wow. That story made the hairs on my arm stand up. Scary-I'm afraid of fire. My thoughts go out to everyone as they rebuild and carry on.

Gazelle said...

Holy crap that was an intense read. Thanks for sharing.