What it’s Like Living in a Bushfire Zone

Waiting for the worst is the hardest part

Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash

For three weeks, my three young children and I wake each morning to peel back the kitchen blinds, hoping to glimpse a forgotten blue sky. And for three weeks we’ve been greeted with a haze that could easily be mistaken for fog, except for the acrid smell that creeps into our house even with all the windows and doors shut tight.

A bright pink sun glows, hidden behind the thick smoke. The gum trees resemble an eerie horror movie set, shrouded in a veil of grey. Even the birds — kookaburras, willy wagtails, magpies — are silent, as if in awe of their strange surroundings.

This morning was the first time we saw something different. Not a blue sky like we hoped. There was grey cloud cover, but the thick, heavy smoke that’s been filtering through our lungs since last month had disappeared.

“Now we can go play outside!” my three-year-old said, looking up at me with hope.

Yes, they could play, but I knew this was only temporary.

I immediately opened my Rural Fire Service app, the one that shows a map of the massive bushfire burning less than ten kilometres (about six miles) from our house. The bushfire has consumed more than 364,000 hectares, stretching through national parks and private properties.

Of course, it’s still burning relentlessly. It ravages the Australian bushland at an alarming rate, faster than the fire crews, or “firies” as we call them, can contain it all.

I’m lucky, though. Our local firies have been able to backburn nearby, stopping the fire from reaching our property. But we’re all still on high alert.

A packed suitcase sits in the boot of our car. We’re ready to go at a moment’s notice. There are two changes of clothes for each family member. We have our valuables packed in a small box, alongside the baby’s pram and another box for our important paperwork. There’s not much room for anything else.

The hardest part right now is waiting. Waiting for something to happen. Or not to happen. We’re constantly on edge, prepared for the worst, but still living each day as though nothing is wrong.

The kids go to school and daycare, although they’ve had a few days where school was cancelled because the fires were out of control. The teachers are great, keeping us in the loop on Facebook about our kids. We’re a small community and it’s been heartwarming seeing everyone look out for one another.

Driving along our road on the way to the kids’ swimming lessons, I spot a large, hand-painted sign that reads, “Thank you RFS!” There are numerous local volunteers who’ve been helping to fight the fire, but it seems that the fire is just too big.

I’m so grateful for the fire crews. Without them, our property would probably be ash right now. I don’t feel prepared if the fire comes. We’ve made sure our water tank is accessible, the dam is available for helicopters and our bushfire tracks are clear.

But if the fire reaches our property, I won’t stay to fight. It’s a horrible decision to make — to leave almost everything behind — but with three young children, there’s no way I’ll risk our lives for our house and possessions.

Tomorrow it seems the wind is going to pick up, which means the smoke from the intense backburning will likely hit us. But for today, my children are going to play outside on this cloudy, summer’s day.

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Lana Graham is Editor of Mama Write. She writes about parenting and her writing journey and lives in Sydney, Australia with her partner (her rock) and their three amazing sons.

Aussie mama of 3 sons. Lover of tea. Planner geek with a cereal obsession. Say G’day: lana@lanagraham.com.au

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