My fiery New Year in Australia
Since the disastrous bush fires in Australia are headline news around the world, I have been touched by emails from readers concerned about my welfare. Here in Sydney, we have been surrounded by bush fires since November - except to the east, where the Pacific Ocean keeps us cooler than the embattled inland. We Sydneysiders are fortunate to have suffered nothing worse than poor air quality. Whatever the wind direction, we smell burning and breathe smoke haze here. Today the air is the clearest it's been for several weeks as the blazes in our state of New South Wales abate.
However, I have more personal experience of these fires than I was expecting. Let me relate my family's story...
My family beach holiday
Last July we decided on a post-Christmas extended family vacation. We booked cottages at Bendalong, a tiny beachside cluster of houses in the Conjola National Park, 3.5 hours' drive south of Sydney. We arrived on Boxing Day to an idyllic scene where resident kangaroos browsed, sea eagles fished, adults pottered on the bushy beaches, small children constructed castles while teenagers checked their phones. Helicoptors trailing buckets were a constant aerial presence, however, as were grey skies with smoky plumes on the horizon.
It wasn't until New Year's Eve, when our electricity failed and our daughter couldn't return from a shopping trip to the nearest town because fires had. leaped the highway, that we began to think it would be a good idea to cut our bush holiday short.
But it was too late as police had closed the only road from the highway. More than 50 houses were destroyed that day at Lake Conjola, not far away. Compared to that horror, we were only mildly inconvenienced. After all, we had enough food, candles and a gas barbecue for cooking.
On 2nd January the fires multiplied and came closer. On our beach we watched an aerial battle scene engulfed by smoke plumes, seaplanes zooming to and fro, a spotter plane all but brushing the treetops followed by the main actor, the water bomber laden with retardant, arcing very, very low and releasing a spectacular blood-red blanket on the fire heading towards our beach. This interested the littlies for a while but they soon returned to their sand castles and boogie boards. That night the acrid smell invaded everything.
Thanks to the tireless firefighters who made Bendalong Road safe, the next day we were allowed to leave in managed convoys of 25 cars at a time, led and tailed by police and fire trucks. The enveloping green forest was reduced to charred tree trunks protruding from ash and dangerous smouldering embers, as pictured above.
This summer's fires in Australia have wreaked horrific destruction and,tragic loss of human and animal life Nevertheless, I can't go along with the doomsayers who occupy social media. We've had terrible fires before and we will again and we will recover as we have always done.
I look forward to hearing from you!