Bushfire Hazard Reduction

fireguyblackBudgewoi is nestled between several salt water lakes and the ocean so you might think we have a bulwark against serious fires. The fires last summer ran down into San Remo and local shops were getting ready to evacuate from the heavy smoke. The fires were close and there were hot cinders falling all over the place from a fire on the other side of the lake.

With that in mind the house looks like it needs a few small clean-ups around the yard. The twigs and branches from the gum trees in the back yard have been thrown into one spot and have become piles behind the garage, The lawn guys seem to have put herbicide onto the long grass and the weeds that had grown all around the yard and it has died and become dry. As I get bursts of energy the game is to remove all that. The plastic furniture has to be stored away from the house. It’s not a lot but it will be a big deal for me to handle.

I remember other bush fires. Older members of the scout troop used to go on hazard reduction burns with the bushfire brigade. We didn’t go the fire front on those trips but were given the opportunity to handle the gear and chase some spot fires. The idea was to train next-generation fire fighters and help us to understand the way fires moved through the bush and across farm land.

In the 1970s there were a number of fires around Castle Hill and across that area. A lot of the local teenagers helped protect properties and stood the line when the fires were near town. Living outside of cities in Australia usually means getting some experience with fires. In the big fires that almost wiped out Pearl Beach some friends and I removed all their photographs, vinyl record collection and papers into the car and left it by the beach. We pushed the Harleys down the road as well and went back to stand the line beside the fire fighters.

That fire was a monster. It was killing people as the fire fighters fought it. I was disabled by then so my whole effort was adding weight to a hose line and making sure hoses didn’t tangle. That fire almost choked everyone with smoke and suddenly it was so close it sucked it all back in, We stopped it as it scorched the wall of their house.

That fire roared like the door to hell and waiting for it was the most terrifying thing I have ever done. The heat, even when most of it was being sucked into the sky! We knew if it beat us there it would kill the whole town and we knew that if it kept coming as it had been it was unstoppable. The wind turned it right at the line. Those firefighters fought like demons!

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I remember one event during the Castle Hill fires. If my memory serves one of the local teenagers was photographed running hard towards the fire front. I think the picture went in the local paper and was used to show the determination of the locals to help out and protect properties in the area. Local teenagers certainly carried their weight that day. The particular teenager in the photograph was a different story.

He was called “Squeaky” He was certainly running towards the main battle against the fire. Right in the middle of the fields the fire was moving into a grove and in that grove were some very interesting plants. Many of the people who saw him that day remember him running as fast as his legs would carry him, leaping flaming grass tufts and ducking from burnt patches to unburnt across the flames.

It was a crazy run and if you ask anyone who saw him moments after the photograph was taken they will tell you he ran almost up to the beating heart of the blaze and after beating back the flames with his flannelet shirt started ripping up some very green and healthy plants. That makes sense. If you are going to beat down grass fires (apart from the groves it was mainly a grass-fire in this part of its range) a little green foliage makes as good a tool as any other. Better than your shirt!

What amazed the other fire-fighting townspeople was when he clutched the plants to his chest and ran towards town through flames he had already cleared. He disappeared through the smoke whooping like a madman.

His friends will remember him standing among the burnt tussocks as the smoke cleared a little. He was black from head to toe and his eyes and teeth almost glowed white against his face. He had thrown his shirt on in such a hurry that it was smoldering so there were trickles of smoke rising from parts of his body. Clutched to his chest were the rich green plants he had risked so much for. The only color that wasn’t black or gray.

His hair had burned in clumps and part of an eyebrow was missing. He had a big stupid smile.

Out of the smoke a firefighter toting a backpack full of water emerged. Without changing pace he walked up to Squeaky and pumped the handle on the backpack. He put out the smoldering shirt, shook his head and walked into the smoke.

Squeaky watched the droplets of water and ash fall onto the leaves with a worried look. Totally absorbed he voiced his thoughts to himself. “Ash” he said. “Ash is good for plants I think.” His smile reappeared. He probably didn’t even notice he had an audience until they started to whoop with laughter.

He was burned, When he had a chance to feel anything he had small but painful burns up his arms and on his scalp, None of us cared about his burns. They were not bad enough for any of us to conclude he had not been handed what he deserved. The memory of that mad, stupid rescue became part of the local mythology. A few of those who were there fighting the fire felt that perhaps he was lucky that none of us needed him to watch our backs. We didn’t and another priceless tale was born! In a way Squeaky was special. He made life interesting and he was the real thing. Genuine

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