My Personal Response To The Fires in SouthWestern Victoria.

It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews who have kept us safe.

What a weekend it has been.

On Friday afternoon when I left town for a family wedding a couple of hours’ drive away, my greatest concern was that my father wouldn’t feel too lonely while we were away. When we left the wedding reception on Saturday night, and I checked my phone, my heart leapt into my throat as I began to realise what hell had unleashed back at home.

Wildfire.

It is late in the season for fires, but there has been very little rain and the region has been tinder dry. Hot and very windy weather conditions created the opportunity for fire to take hold and spread rapidly through both farmland and natural bush.

One outbreak led to another, and another, and then another. My town, and those nearby, were experiencing the greatest crisis in decades. Surrounded by a ring of fire, people watched, worried, and sought refuge in the middle of town.

Social media posts showed what locals could see from their yards or where they had been driving. A friend who lives nearby posted photos of what she could see – and it was terrifying.

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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 22.19 Cobden Victoria
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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 23.46 Cobden Victoria

The emergency services website showed incidents all across the region, one after the other, spreading in a grim pattern of danger and destruction.

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That little white dot in the middle of the map is my town – Cobden, in southwestern Victoria.

 

Roads were closed. Authorities forbade people from driving into the area. The situation was officially described as catastrophic. And my 86 year old father was at home on his own. Nausea swept over me as I struggled not only with fear, but also with feelings of absolute uselessness: there was absolutely nothing I could do.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much. The radio stations weren’t forthcoming with updates until after 3am, so I turned to social media for information. With the aid of Facebook, I consulted with neighbours and made sure that our uncle had taken steps to make sure Dad was okay. I tried to call, but was unable to make contact. In the end, I just had to trust that things at home were as under control as they could be.

The fires continued to burn and spread throughout the night and the following day. As people’s stories of loss and devastation were told, offers of help were made and communities rallied, even while the fires still raged. There is no doubt about Aussies – they know how to help a mate, and they don’t hesitate to step in where needed.

Even late into the afternoon, the roads to home were all still closed, so we made our way back to a neighbouring town to wait until we could get home. One road opened at 5.50pm; we only needed one road, so we headed home. We knew that even though the road was open, authorities didn’t want people just driving into the area without good reason, but my dad was a very good reason to be making the trip.

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Smoke rising above Cobden as we drove home from Camperdown on Sunday evening.

 

We were very glad to find that Dad was fine, our home was safe, and the town itself was untouched except for smoke. Our local football oval was filled with emergency service manpower and vehicles from other places. They had come to help fight the fires and provide relief to the local crews, many of whom are volunteers, who had been working for many long hours to defend and protect people, properties and towns.

Fifteen minutes after returning home, a succession of five fire trucks went zooming down our no-through road, and my heart was in my throat again. Whatever had them rushing out had to be close, as there’s only about two kilometres of road past our place before the road ends. Within half an hour they had sorted the issue and came trundling back. My neighbours and I applauded them, gave them the thumbs up, and cheered them to show our gratitude for their quick response. They waved back and returned the thumbs up, their smiles letting us know that they understood and were thankful for our response, too.

Not long after that, new plumes of smoke not too far away indicated that there were new fires springing up. I could hear the sirens as they rushed out of town to meet the new emergencies, and reminded myself that the crisis wasn’t over just because my immediate surroundings were relatively safe.

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Thick smoke once again settled over the town. We took encouragement from the fact that warnings were downgraded to critical from catastrophic, and the symbols on the emergency services’ online fire map gradually began to change from red to orange.

Incredibly, no human lives have been lost and very few serious injuries have been suffered. This is testament to the dedication, hard work and training of our first responders, particularly our firefighters and State Emergency Service volunteers.

Despite the smoke in the air and the knowledge that the crisis wasn’t over yet, I slept so much better last night knowing that we were being protected by hundreds of committed and able firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews. It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the job they’ve done and continue to do.

This morning the pall of smoke blanketing our town was thick. It stings the eyes and the throat, and it smells. Yet that is the only discomfort I suffer, and for that I am incredibly thankful. What a blessing to be able to say that.

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The waterbombers and helicopters are flying overhead, and the work to control and extinguish these fires continues. People who are much, much braver than I are working in difficult and dangerous conditions, and for that we are all incredibly thankful.

The warnings for my town have been downgraded to Watch and Act but others are still in danger. We all have to remain vigilant.

Beyond that, we all have to care for each other.
People have lost homes, or farms, or herds… or all of that.
Our local community in the southwest of Victoria has been shaken and found strong, supportive and caring – and now, we must continue that by caring for those who have lost so much.
I have no doubt that Cobden will ace that – we’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, we’re incredibly blessed to live in Cobden. It’s a great community, and I’m thankful that it has passed this most recent test.

 

Coming home.

We’ve just been away for the hottest weekend of the summer. I don’t cope well with the heat, so I’ve sought out the coolest places possible, stayed out of the sun, and tried not to complain about how hot I’ve been.  We’ve spent the weekend with some pretty great people, and really enjoyed our weekend away despite the oppressive heat of 39C with high humidity.

I enjoyed the most blissful sleep for all but the first five minutes of the two-hour drive home. I’m not going to lie to you – enjoying the air conditioning in the car after some delicious ice cream, I was possibly the happiest I’ve been all weekend.  I may have snored like the lady I am, or thrashed around in a dream, but I wouldn’t have known. The phrase “dead to the world” has never been more appropriate.
On arriving home, we found that there had been a “cool change” and the temperature outside was down to 31C with even higher humidity. By the time I had finished unpacking, even my eyelids were sweating, and I could feel the tickly, trickly beads of most unladylike sweat running down my back.
Thankfully, my furbabies didn’t care how hot or sweaty or uncomfortable I was. As usual, my labrador Abbey nearly turned herself inside out with excitement and  some supercharged tail wagging. My tortoiseshell cat, Scout, sat on the end of the bed and talked to me as I unpacked and put things away.
When I finally sat in my comfy chair tonight, Scout leaped up onto my lap and cuddled into me as hard as she could. At that point, I didn’t care how hot I was either. When your cat loves you enough to welcome you home with happy cuddles and purring worthy of a poorly tuned Volkswagen Beetle, you cuddle her right back for all you’re worth. That’s what loving your furbaby is all about.
The cuddle only lasted a few minutes. Once we were both ridiculously, uncomfortably hot again, she jumped down and lay on the floor beside my chair, both of us enjoying the breeze from the fan.
She’s still purring loudly enough for me to hear her, fifteen minutes later. This kind of welcome really is one of the best things about coming home.

A random conversation.

Tonight, an impromptu conversation occurred when a friend messaged me out of the blue.

Friend: Power went out.
Me: That’s no good.
Friend: Pedalling my bike now. LMAO.
Me: Haha. Not sure you meant to message me, though.
Friend: Scared my dog though… Oh. Sorry! Hugs.
Me: No problem, mate. Actually, I think this has been one of my favourite conversations all night.
Friend: hehehehehehehe
Me: Do you mind if I blog it? Names changed, of course.
Friend: Sure thing. Looks like the storm is about to hit here. Gonna be a yuck night for sleep.
Me: Yep.
Friend: It’s still hot out. About 24 outside. It’s horrible.
Me: Yeah, here too.

And that was all. Completely normal.