The problem with Australian summers is you don’t know which you’re going to have: a nice day on the river, dinner with friends, or an invasion of flames.
We’ve had a hot summer, with the compensation of time on the river in my new canoe. Learning to use it involved lots of shouting, and we lost the “drop-in” (read “drop-out”) middle seat in the big waterfall.
Even Mum took to the river in her fabulous sixties beach jacket.
Meanwhile the grass on the hills has dried to a crispy straw consistency, perfect for flames. Craig watered some of the more accessible of this year’s tree plantings, and we checked up on others (mostly good news).
Andrew Leonard and Frank have been helpful at keeping the grass well grazed around the house. There’s so little nutrition in what’s left, the sheep have had to be shifted to silage and “sheep nuts” to keep them alive. Or be sold off.
We were glad to have the short grass last night. Out to dinner with the neighbours, they got a phone message from Richard Scanes at Adnamira: “Fire at the Esdale house”. We left abruptly. Coming over the ridge our first sight of Esdale was glowing flames running up the hill from the orchard behind the house. Craig says I was swearing as I crashed through the potholes on the road, but I don’t remember. We were glad that both households had the fire tanks ready to go on the back of the utes. Other neighbours turned up very quickly, then the fire trucks appeared, flashing lights and big hoses, just in time for the mop-up . Our Mullion brigade trucks took an extra fifteen minutes because the Yass Valley Council has left the Glenrock connecting road in such terrible shape. They’ll be hearing about it.
If we had to have a fire, it was a good night for it. Completely windless, so the flames were only knee high and moving fairly slowly. I could immediately see it had burned through part of the orchard, leaving a nice campfire of one of the old plum tree stumps, and into the neighbouring paddock, where a log was alight. After changing into jeans and boots, I ran up the hill to the small plot of trees Matt and I planted in August. While I waited for Craig ( who was having a struggle with the fire pump and then had to go and use the hose on the cypress near the house), I whacked at the flames with the mattock and cleared trenches in front of trees I hoped to save. It did have some effect, but the results of a stream of water from Frank’s fire hose were much better.
The fire had clearly started from the dodgy leaning power pole behind the house, which has been reported multiple times to Essential Energy and the previous power companies. They’ll be hearing more about it from us.
The repair guys when they arrived looked for fried birds on the ground, but in fact a wire had come adrift, probably dropping a molten piece into the grass. It makes me wonder, with all the local fires started by poles, whether it would be better to take the investment in replacing poles and put it into helping us all go off-grid.
Anyway, in the aftermath, there was little real damage. 1.8 hectares (4 acres) of burned ground. The metal chicken tractor protected the chickens from the flames, the fences are metal or metal and concrete, the new garden beds and the big cypress trees along the fence were saved, the radio dog fence was fairly easily repaired. Three of my new fruit trees are probably gone, and at least half of my little revegetation plot, but some of the ones that survived will have done so because of the covers and heavy mulch (hard to put out, but good insulation).
Steve Faulder, our local fire captain, came down to double check for smoke this morning (over the terrible Glenrock Road again). He laughed when I said I’d prefer to see him under better circumstances. “I’m getting a bit of complex” he said “With all these people who say they don’t want to see me round their places, this time of year.”
What have we learned?
- It’s always good to have your fire pump ready in hot weather. And working.
- Get a new rake-hoe (much better than a mattock for clearing ground in front of a fire).
- It’s always good to have plenty of beer on hand for the post-fire midnight recovery.
- Wine and climbing through barbed-wire fences don’t mix.
- When we build our shed, put in a gravity-fed standpipe for filling up water tanks.
- Emergencies can happen on a still night.
- Neighbours are the best.
A big thank you to Andrew and Leonie, Frank, Richard, and the crews from Mullion 1, 2, 7B, Cavan 1, and Jeir-Marchmont.