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OUR Bushfire Emergency

5pm and we were still there, hanging on till the last minute, ready to defend our home, despite being aware that this was probably a forlorn hope. I knew we needed to eat and decided to make the evening meal while there was still a semblance of daylight through the smoke haze. It had to be on the gas hob - electrical power had died hours before. Dirty dishes had to be left soaking - not ideal, but there was no hot water and time was running short. My main concern was for my wife, and for our grand daughter who had only recently qualified for her driver's licence. With little experience behind her, and being stressed into the bargain, I preferred the drive to be in daylight. It wasn't to be. The smoke hid what remained of the sun. A final check - the clouds visible from the back fence had taken on a red hue; no flames yet, but they were there, somewhere below! "That's us," I declared, "We're going."

fire in the distance

The trip wasn't a problem. By then, the roads were deserted and we knew where we were going, up to a point anyway. Once close to our destination, my wife contacted our neighbour on the mobile and she gave us final directions to her daughter's place in Peppermint Grove Beach, a place I didn't recall ever visiting before. Strange the irrelevant thoughts that pop into your head at such times. They ceased to matter when we eventually found the right roads which, fortunately, weren't crowded with kangaroos as we were led to expect - I guess they'd all gone to bed. Perhaps we should have followed suit, but we were so relieved to be out of danger and needed to relax. I'm not sure what time we crashed that night, but it would have been later than normal, one word that had ceased to be meaningful for us.

Friday, 8th January 2016

It was weird to wake up in a strange bed, trying to gather thoughts fuzzy with snippets of a fantasy that had actually happened. Our usual routine went by the board. Checking website emails was hopeless with little or no signal; and there was no time for that anyway, having to answer text after text on the mobiles from people wanting to know how we were faring. Once that was done, everything went flat - nothing to do but wait for the latest radio news, plus relayed messages from a few who had stayed in the fire zone to defend properties. Much of this information was conflicting - the fire's here; no, it's gone past; the visitor's centre is on fire; the Cookernup store's gone... We didn't know what to believe, and it was increasingly hard as the day dragged on. All we wanted was to go home, but the roads remained closed and even if we had been permitted on them, fuel was becoming scarce.

Evening eventually came. We dined with strangers who became friends we shall never forget and will be forever grateful to. Sitting outside under stars that we couldn't see a night before, we got to talking and joking. That's the way it is, especially for Aussies - forget the strife for the moment and have a laugh. Then someone said: "Go get your guitar and we'll have a sing-song." I don't perform in public, but this was for friends, people who'd opened up their home for us without a second thought. So I did it. I played and sang, everyone joined in, and I like to think that I was giving something back for the generosity extended to us. And, do you know what? Not one person either noticed or cared when I hit a bum note!

Saturday, 9th January 2016

Another day, another wait, more newscast listening, and then more waiting. The family we were staying with went to the beach as they seemed to do most days - parents, kids and dogs. They couldn't seem to understand why we declined to join them. We had no interest in it, you see. This was no holiday for us; merely an imposed exile that we wanted to return from - enjoyment would come later, if we were lucky. When night deigned to fall it started out tentatively the same as before, except for some late arrivals joining the throng - two family members on their way home to Melbourne; always assuming they could make it back to catch their flight from Perth via a 3 hour detour, and then some. Did they add a spark, or what? The sing-song turned into a very, very amateur, noisy and exuberant cabaret with everyone contributing. Did we make fools of ourselves? Yes. Did anyone care? Definitely not.

Sunday, 10th January 2016

There was negative news from the radio, but mobile conversations from real people disagreed - the danger's over; we're home now; you can get through via back roads. Maybe I was being over-cautious, but I said no: I couldn't afford to risk my family's safety based on the say-so of individuals who possibly had no-one that they were immediately responsible for. So, I said we'd wait a bit longer. Our neighbours, the ones whose family had given us shelter, decided they were going to chance it - did we want to follow them in convoy? I stuck obstinately to my guns - thanks, but no thanks: we'll wait. No problem with that - by then we were becoming experts! An hour or so later we heard that one of the two main highways was open, but only for those who could prove that they were residents of the town they were heading for.

It took less time to pack than it had when we were preparing for our exodus. No mystery - we were going home; hopefully. Approaching the police road block was a worry, not really knowing whether the advice we had received was fact or simply wishful thinking on someone's part. Up ahead were a couple of cops at the roadside; and as we drew closer, we were wondering: will they let us through, or turn us back? Hey, this was one time when you truly appreciate those boys in blue. A quick glance at the driving licences, a comforting smile of genuine understanding and it was: "Welcome back home. Just keep your radio on."

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