My daughter and I are currently evacuated from the humpy. My partner is still at home, defending the humpy from a huge, fast moving fire. We are all shell shocked, numb and exhausted. I thought I would try to get the memories down on (digital) paper before they get any more jumbled together than they already are.
On Thursday 5th December a fire was spotted by my mum and several other locals in the bush far to the West of our place. Of course it was in rough, inaccessible country and no helicopters were available to dump a bucket of water on it. The fire grew fairly fast and by home time (for me) it was large enough that I told my principal I needed to take a day off to further fire prep the humpy. It only got bigger as I drove towards home.
On Friday we all decided to stay home and fire prep everything. We have been keeping things set up for fires since February, but there is always more raking to do. By lunch time we could see the smoke cloud billowing over us and it was really hot and windy. My sister rang and said they were evacuating and we should too. I rang a friend of ours with a trailer and asked if he could come in and get a load of animals from our place and he said he could. We began to load precious animals into their evac’ cages. We have had cages set up for an evacuation since February too. The cages are small and only intended to transport animals not house them, so a lot went into the back of my tiny car.
We loaded the sheep into our trailer and the dogs into my partner’s car along with a left over cage or two. By the time my friend arrived we only had the ducks, geese and chooks to go. With his help (and the help of a friend he bought with him) we got them all loaded and set off for our original evacuation site; another friend’s home in a nearby town.
Before our little circus convoy had got too far we all received an evacuation order for the town my friend lives in. We were shocked and scared; how had the fire, which had not hit our place when we left, travelled so far so fast? We worried about whether our family and friends had managed to get out and where everyone was.
We stopped at the Tabulm CWA rooms and checked in at the evacuation point there to see what our options were. The lovely lady there sat me down and gave me a cold drink and a calming hug. After a while, she told me we would have to go on to the Evacuation Centre at the RSM in Casino. So we set off again.
We reached the RSM and found that the Evacuation centre was not set up yet. The lovely people at the RSM tried to scramble around and find somewhere we could keep our multitude of animals and we are very grateful for the effort they went to to try to accommodate them. Eventually we remembered a good friend who live just out of Casino (put it down to stress) and we ended up taking everyone there. Our friends were so good about letting us set up our animals under the covered carports at their house, even helping us build a pallet yard to keep the sheep in for the night. We zipped into town after it was all set up to get something to eat for us all and our friend gave the evacuation centre a phone call. This time we were given the number of the animal evacuation site in Casino at the showgrounds. We rang him and dropped in to see him on the way back to the house. After some chatter, we set a date to move everyone to the showgrounds in the morning. With that all settled, we managed to spare a minute to contact friends and family and find out that everyone was OK.
The next morning we moved all the animals and ourselves to the showground and set them all up in cages before heading in to the RSM to see if we could get a tent to sleep in. The Disaster recovery people wanted to put us (the human us) into a hotel, but we insisted that we needed a tent so we could stay with our animals (many of whom need constant medical attention). Eventually an extremely kind lady (you know who you are) took me on a quick shopping trip and bought us a tent, air mattresses, chairs and other things to set up a camp. We will be forever in her debt, and we really appreciate the donation that allowed us to stay with our non-human family members. We were also given a voucher to buy food, which we used straight away to buy about a weeks supply of food. We set up the tent and collapsed into an exhausted sleep for the night.
Then we began the endless round of cleaning cages and feeding animals. After about three days (the days seem to blur together when you aren’t sleeping well) another friend called and said she was evacuating her caravan and wondered if we would like to have it to sleep in. The caravan was duly delivered and we took down the tent. We moved everything into the annex of the van and went in to get some sleep. Somewhere in the middle of the night a hail storm hit, we scrambled out to check the animals and discovered that all our things were floating in ankle deep icy water.
We trudged back and forward through the light hail moving our stuff into the poultry shed. In the process we discovered one of the neighbor’s cats cats had escaped confinement and was loose in the shed. We managed to catch the cat (with Chloe crawling around under the cages), and put her in more secure housing before collapsing back into bed with the attitude of ‘sort-it-out-in-the morning’. In the morning we went back to the cleaning and feeding schedule, dried all the wet belongings and tried to catch up with communications.
During all this, we had been checking fire updates obsessively and ringing for regular updates to home. My partner had gone back to protect our property on the second day out and we were making calls to him constantly. The fire had traveled fast on the Friday and rushed up the slope to my mother’s house and burned it. A lot of people lost their homes that day. The loss of my mother’s home has left me shocked and numb, I can only imagine how it has effected my mother.
We are totally thankful that our home survived, we came so close to losing everything to fire. It has made us determined to build everything in fireproof materials from now on.
We are also grateful to the love and support we have received from friends and institutions along the way. From the very start with the first warning we got from my mum (via a sister) to the donation of a tent and camp gear and the lend of an air conditioned caravan, we have been helped to deal with the crisis. The animal evacuation people have supplied us with food and bedding for the animals and checked up on us daily to make sure we were OK. The whole crisis has been awful and horrifying, but also heartening and restoring in a way.
It is now 20th December and we are still evacuated as the fire has become a slowly creeping monster that has yet to reach our fire breaks at home, but threatens to leap up and burn us periodically. We will be returning home very soon…I hope.