Glen was in Melbourne. She was with Ros and Nick, helping with the imminent birth of our next grand daughter.
I met Nick and Glen at Helimed in the Latrobe Valley at 2pm. The temperature was above 40 degrees and the dreaded hot northerly winds had started. The three of us were very ill at ease at the sight of billowing smoke from the nearby Churchill area. At this stage, it seemed to be coming from quite a small source – we were wondering about the open cut coal mine at Morwell.
Once upon a time we’d lived just south of Churchill. That’s where both our girls were born. We have many friends still in the area. Two old friends had just survived the recent Boolarra fires, a little more south and west from Churchill.
Whilst our drive back home was basically north, away from the direction the fire was moving, at various places looking left and right, we could see its progress up the side of the Strzelecki hills. The rapidity at which it grew was astonishing.
At the same time the north western sky was full of smoke from the huge Bunyip fire. I just wanted to get home. I’d semi prepared for the forecasted disastrous day, but I wanted to start wetting down around the house.
We are fortunate enough to have a ‘garden’ dam on our property. All our pumps are electrical – we are on tank water, so continuous power supply is a pretty essential requirement. Thankfully, three days earlier when I took Glen to the train in Traralgon, I invested in a half decent petrol generator. I blocked the roof gutters and filled them, filled the water drums around the house and we started to ‘wet down’.
With the relatively green golf course on one side of us and grazing paddocks on the other three sides, it was only going to be a grass fire that we needed to contend with. Our strategy was to remain at the house and extinguish any embers that might land on us.
Around 4pm, the sun disappeared. This had happened on previous occasions and for me it is the trigger point to be extra diligent and alert. Ash was starting to land around us and the smoke was getting more dense by the minute. There were no embers thankfully.
With the wetting down basically done we went inside for a cuppa and a listen to the local radio. The enormity of what was happening around Victoria then became evident. In those short several hours, the Churchill fire had crossed the Strzeleckis and was threatening Woodside and Yarram down on the coast! The Bunyip fire had crossed the now closed Princes Freeway, and numerous other fires had commenced in all directions.
Now it was dark and I kept climbing the ladder onto the roof to check for nearby ‘glows’. Radio reports were giving us a horrific picture. The wind was terrible. It was very strong and loaded with ash. Our clothes and eyes were full of it. I imagine with daylight, the place will be a mess.
At around 10pm it started to rain. Very lightly mind you, but anything was a help. We relaxed a little. Another cuppa, some more monitoring of the radio – nearby towns of Glengarry, Cowwarr and Toongabbie were on high alert – but we felt the worst was over.
The roof gutters started overflowing of course, so they had to be unblocked. I had to just let the water flow away, as it was too filthy to go into the tank. Finally we felt sleepy but we were both a bit too edgy to relax that much. I kept wandering around outside, checking for tell tale glows in the distance. The wind has dropped completely and it’s now just daylight. Time to have another wander and some rumination.
An uncomfortable night for us. Oh God, what a night it must have been for some others. The headlines today will be enlightening. If you don’t mind DF, we’ll cancel the Wader survey today.