October came in with heated days this year. The temperatures were preternatural. Arguments erupted in the newspapers about whether these unusual highs – 38 degrees in October! – could be explained by climate change, or whether they were just business as usual for the sunburnt country. They’re still arguing.But for the people living along Singles Ridge Road, Yellow Rock and Buena Vista, there was no time to be bothered with the niceties at the upper echelons of Maslow’s Pyramid. They were back down near the base, dealing with their safety. Fire, sparked perhaps by high winds crashing through high-wires, sending sparks into tinder-dry bush, pushed by those winds and its own self-generated force, raced up the gully behind the houses in Winmalee, and in a flash, destroyed them.
The people fled. No-one died. Some pets died – the family dog, left behind or lost in the evacuation panic; the cat that couldn’t be captured. Pets at home when their owners were away at work, prevented from rushing back to rescue by the firemen’s containment lines and the fierce fire itself.
The ‘firies’ fought their way along Singles Ridge, but the water pressure gave out and the fire was fast. House after house along one side of the road caught and burned. Hundreds, in the end. The glass in the windscreens of parked cars just melted, as if in a furnace. Like a storm at sea, a firestorm cannot be contained, cannot be tamed, only avoided, fought or endured, or outrun.
Then in the aftermath, the wreckage. Like the bones of a sunken shipwreck, or the rusted metal of a lost hulk, the burned houses were gone, leaving only a few tall blackened brick piles, some twisted pieces of metal roofing, drifts of ash, incinerated memories.
In another six or eight months, after rain, the blackened eucalypt bush will sprout green shoots and resume its life cycle. Those who live in the bush won’t find it as easy, but they can do it.