Putting Out Fires


We’re in the middle of one of the hottest Februarys on record. Here in Toowoomba, we’re reaching temperatures of around 36°C which isn’t too bad, as long as you don’t have to go outside. But out west, where my husband Paul works, the temperature has been hitting 42°C. That’s hot. Especially in the middle of harvest. But that’s summer in Australia.

As the mercury rises though, so does the risk of bushfire. Especially after a dry winter. In the right conditions, the smallest of embers can turn into a raging bushfire that destroys family homes and livelihoods, reduces precious memories to ash, and all too often, takes lives.

I have never personally experienced the horror of a bushfire, but I can remember the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983. On February 16 – Ash Wednesday – around 180 fires broke out across South Australia and Victoria. Thousands of hectares of land were burnt, over 2,000 homes were lost and 75 people lost their lives, including 12 volunteer firefighters.

From the safety of our front porch we could see the red glow of the bushfire burning in the Adelaide Hills. Our television screens showed the distraught and devastated faces of those who had lost everything. I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel to gaze upon mounds of ash, twisted metal and the charred remains of what was once your family home. Nor can I imagine the conditions and danger that confront the firefighters, many of them volunteers, prepared to risk their own lives to save the property and lives of others – people they might not even know. I only know that they are among some of the bravest people on this earth.

For most of us, our experience of bushfire will come from the safety of our front porch or living room, but we might have times in our lives when we get just the tiniest sense of what it means to be a firefighter. I’m not talking about the kind of fires that threaten our home or lives, but the times when life events seem to spiral out of control and no matter where we look, we see small fires breaking out.

Individually, these small fires are no big deal. They are just another little hiccup which we can deal with quite easily. But when they come one after the other or all at once, it can be overwhelming, exhausting and very stressful. We might feel a bit like a firefighter, putting out fires while keeping one eye on the weather and the other eye on any embers threatening to explode.

Over the last few weeks I have felt a bit like a firefighter. I knew it was going to be a stressful time – after all, we were moving house. I knew it would require careful planning and coordination – Bec was transitioning to tertiary education at the same time. And Dan has autism. However, I wasn’t prepared for all the little fires that just seemed to erupt at the same time. Things didn’t quite go as planned and everybody seemed to look to me, the Mum, to be chief firefighter.

Needless to say, some things just got pushed aside while I was busy putting out fires.

But finally, the embers have been dampened and life has calmed down. The boxes are unpacked and things are mostly in their right place. Bec is excited about the year ahead. There’s still Dan’s program for 2018 to finalise and the matter of a funding reduction to deal with, but I’m hoping I can hang up my fire helmet, at least for a while.

At the end of the day, although it was tiring and stressful, the fires weren’t life threatening, and for that, I’m truly grateful.


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