Apart from a brief amount of rain which cleared the air, we have been living in a smoke haze since the start of spring. It fluctuates as to how much smoke is around, but the last week has been particularly bad. Fires which have been burning for the last couple of months have spread out, joined up with each other, and are sweeping across the country.
The days feel dark and overcast, except it is smoke instead of cloud. At times it is so thick that the sun cannot be seen. The sky turns orange, and it rains ash like some kind of horrible apocalyptic snow. The smoke makes it unsafe to play or do anything energetic outside. Everyone has a constant headache, and there is a spike in hospital admissions with lung complaints.
It is difficult under such circumstances to focus much on schoolwork, or indeed, on anything. When there are fires so powerful that they create their own weather systems, and the smoke drifts across the ocean to New Zealand, things like the command structure of the Roman army, or the effective rounding of numbers just doesn’t have an impact. We are constantly checking the Fires Near Me app and reading weather reports.
People check up on each other a lot. On a night by herself with no sleep recently, a friend evacuated her neighbours, halted a major fire front in her paddock, and extinguished the house next door three times. There are a number of stories around like this. Footage of the fires defies belief.
We live in a country which has refused to discuss warnings from leaders from the fire departments, and has cut funding to bushfire brigades at a time of unprecedented fire danger. There are special laws being introduced to specifically target people who suggest climate change is a factor. Consequently, tens of thousands of square kilometres have been burned, over 150 homes have been lost and people are dead. As a crowning insult to such wilful incompetence, our Prime Minister sends thoughts and prayers.
At home we develop a fire plan. We do lots of cleaning up around the house. We mow the lawn short, trim trees, clean gutters and remove anything that might act as a fuel source. The kids have a bag of special clothes to put on if we have to evacuate. They are heavy and fire resistant. We have a bag each of things to take with us. We pack documents, photos and fresh water. Its like playing the worst possible version of that old game ‘you can take two things from the house.’
As much as it pains me to admit it, if a fire reaches the forest at our back door, all that loose dry bark and volatile oil filled leaves will just explode. The most we can do is prepare the house as best we can, and if the fire arrives then leave it to see what happens.
The kids don’t like fire planning. It makes them very nervous. They are not the only ones. Planning for a disaster is difficult, but it has to be done. Facing a disaster without a plan is infinitely worse.