A blood red moon rises slowly over the charred remains of Mt. Taylor. Thick smoke hangs heavily in the atmosphere. The sounds of sirens travel back and forth all around us. The same old news cackles out of the battery powered radio. The same old news, the same tone of desperation in the DJ’s voice.
“Canberra is burning!”
Fires continue to burn all around us. Some worse than others. Some devastating, some simply worrying.
More than 400 houses have been destroyed so far. Three people have been confirmed dead, but unofficial reports from friends in the SES (State Emergency Service) push the number up to 7, possibly more. There is a great deal of concern about numerous bush walkers and campers who are unaccounted for up in the Namadgi and Kosciusko National Parks. I’d hate to think about what the clean up crews may uncover up there.
So far the statistics that are filtering through are amazing, but yet very frightening. Countless people have been admitted to the Canberra hospital for various fire related injuries. The worst of them being flown to Sydney hospitals for immediate treatment. More than 3,000 people have been evacuated from their homes all over Canberra. One evacuation point itself had to be evacuated due to the close proximity of one of the many fires.
All night long the radio DJ’s on all stations were urging people to stay in their houses unless the fires threatened their safety. Urging people to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary.
“Give the Firey’s a chance to get to where the action is as quickly as possible”.
Already one fire truck was overturned by “rubber neckers”. i.e. Folks trying to get a better look at the destruction.
Not long after the first suburbs were evacuated reports began to come in of looting. One man has been charged and police are taking very strong steps to prevent any more of these fucked up acts!
There was a bit of excitement where I live. A number of houses a few streets away were evacuated as flames quickly engulfed the Urambi hills just behind us. I went for a walk up on these hills yesterday before the fires started and got some great photos of the glow from the far off Namadgi fires. A few hours later darkness fell as thick black smoke blocked out the sun and the evacuations warnings stared blaring across the radio. The fire was coming for us.
I remember thinking that the far off glow from the Namadgi fires looked like Mt.Doom or something from the Lord of the Rings, but not long after I got home I came face to face with a real Mt.Doom!
I was standing on our roof watering the eves and gutters and making sure none of the hot ash that was falling on us was going to start a fire in our house when I looked up and saw Mt.Taylor go up in flames. NEVER in my life have I seen anything so amazingly beautiful and so utterly terrifying as that. We’re only a kilometer or so from Mt.Taylor and I could see the flames engulfing the trees and destroying everything in its path. It was at that moment that it dawned on me that we were in real danger.
Not long after that, the flames appeared over the Urambi hills on the opposite side of us and for a while there we were surrounded. It wasn’t as bad as it seemed, but it was damn scary none the less.
Power has only just come back on after 24 hours or so of blackout and so for most of the time we were listening to the reports blaring out of the old battery powered radio. Many of the stories were so conflicting we didn’t know what was happening. We’d heard stories of the amazing pictures they were showing on the news as house after house went up in flames and the poor firefighters and SES struggled against unthinkable odds.
There were only 300 firefighters in the ACT when the fire hit, but as the night progressed, more were bought in from surrounding states. Many of our own forces were off fighting the fires in the National Parks.
Once things calmed down a bit around our place we cracked open a bottle of one of our home brews. We thought the “Smoked Ale” was appropriate.
But in all seriousness, it was one hell of an ordeal. We came of lightly compared to many other residence and my heart goes out to the families of those who were killed and to everyone who has lost their homes in this disaster. This is something Canberra hasn’t seen in over 50 years and they’re estimating that it is the worst disaster since Ash Wednesday.
But all my friends are safe and accounted for and so we all can sleep a little easier tonight.