We already knew this was going to be a nightmare couple of days from the weather - a dry, hot wind whipping up the leaves and thrashing through the gum trees. We haven't seen more than a few centimetres of rain in the last few months, so the whole of Sydney was a tinderbox waiting for a spark, and it wouldn't be long before some pyromaniac or a randomly discarded cigarette butt provided that.
I went home to my parent's place to prepare it for the onslaught - clearing leaves from the gutters and dry branches from the area around the house, hacking out the dry undergrowth in the bush behind us, closing the windows and doors to rob drifting sparks of a purchase within the house. We had hoses and a generator-driven pump hooked up to the swimming pool, ready to go. My parents watched the news of burning homes to the north, while I sat on the roof and stared at the impossibly vast clouds of smoke rising from fires on the outskirts of Sydney. Anyone who has lived through a bad summer in Sydney will know the hazy unreality of waiting for the fires, the sun filtering through the smoke to cast an eerie and unreal orange pallor over everything. We had snatches of shouted conversation with the neighbours, watching just as anxiously from their own roof.
Then it came. Dad ran out to warn us, but we had already seen the smoke coming over the ridge. I ran inside and changed out of shorts and a T-shirt into overalls and boots. When I came out the smoke was already chokingly thick, and I could barely see through stinging eyes as Dad and my brother got the pump running and sprayed the house and the bush with water. The wind was blowing wickedly, fast and rapidly changing direction. In the near distance I could hear sirens and shouting, all curiously muted by the smoke.
We heard the flames before we saw them, roaring and crackling, tearing through the bush. A volunteer firefighter team helped us to hose down the area between the house and the fire, shouting encouragement to us and other teams around us. One of our neighbours had managed to get a garden hose long enough to reach our roof from his place, and he kept our gutters wet to damp out the sparks. I ran like a demon from place to place with a wet towel beating out the spot fires.
Then it was over, the flames beaten back or turned by the wind - I'm not sure which. It's been worse before, in other years (in 1996 we almost lost the house) but I still almost can't believe we made it. My parents are tired of the nearly annual fight now, and will sell the house rather than face another summer here. I am relieved but disappointed. Some part of me will miss the thrilling intensity of yesterday, the adrenaline of anticipation and the incomparable rush of facing the fires.
This morning the fires are still burning to the north and south. In the last three days Sydney has lost 21 homes and vast tracts of bushland to the flames, and I have no doubt there will be more to come. With the bush scorched to the ground around my parent's place there is no more danger there, but for other parts of Sydney and the rest of Australia this will be a summer of fires.
This is my first ever daylog, because it's the first time I've ever had anything interesting to write about. Please be gentle.