This is a story I began after the horrendous Victorian bushfires twelve months ago here in Australia. It was hard to write, but I felt compelled. Many people who lived in the serene hill towns outside of Melbourne perished, as tremendous fires destroyed these heavily-timbered towns.
I begin my 500-extract when the MC, Jilly, had just spoken to the fire authority and alerted them to a fire in her area. One of the problems with the Victorian fires was the lack of responsiveness/resources of the fire-fighting authorities. Many perished because of this. Read on…
Her Fire Plan? Jilly slammed the phone down. Oh, God! She was horrified to see the smoke had grown from a whisp to a red twister. The red-orange-black flames were skittering along the ground gobbling the brown grasses and spitting out black stubble. A stiff breeze whipped the flames higher and higher. One good thing -the fire’s direction was away from her house, heading for the opposite ridge.
But she knew the wind could change a fire in a heartbeat.
The gigantic wall of flame was growing before her eyes like a giant genie free from its bottle. She felt an icy creepiness throughout her body even though the temperature was at boiling point.
Where are the fire trucks?
Her knowledge of fires wouldn’t fill a water glass. She’d only just arrived from the city seeking peace and serenity. But even the rawest city slicker knew that water meant salvation. Thankfully the dam just down the hill was still half full from the previous season’s rains, the pump was primed, ready. C’mon. She dashed to the dam and checked the possibilities—did she have enough hose to saturate the house and fill the gutters? Running back up the hill, she clipped a hose to the back outdoor tap and tested it with a few squirts. Fine.
Okay, I have water.
Where…are…the fire trucks?
Running to the front of the house, she was mesmerised by smoke whirling up the hill in her direction like an unwelcome visitor. Oh my Lord! The wind had changed, the fire was coming. A wall of flame was heading her way, galloping across the paddocks like a terrified pack of brumbies. Eucalyptus trees exploding. Animals screaming. Fireballs searing the sky. She was in Dante’s Inferno.
How could fire change so quickly?
She knew she was supposed to go or stay, but she hadn’t thought the fire was going to threaten her. There’d been no warnings. But now it was coming. The power lines were on fire, the wires swinging. Flying cinders were whirling through the sky. It was too late to make a choice—the fire had made it for her. The ferocious blaze was already leap-frogging the valley road and licking its way through her paddock. Escape was impossible.
I’m a survivor. A fire can’t beat me.
Fear got her adrenaline pumping. She ran to the hose. She had to wet everything before the fire reached the dam and wrecked the pump. It was approaching at a terrifying speed.
She dashed inside, wet a towel and wrapped it around her head, covering her mouth. The water pressure was low, but Jilly managed to coax enough out to do the job. She watched as the flames continued their destructive path uphill, well-feulled by the dry summer grasses, dead trees and undergrowth. As she hosed, she looked around in panic. Where could she go? Where could she hide? All she could hear was the cracking of exploding trees and the loud whoosh of the flames as they shattered everything in their path. Everything was on fire. Everything was turning black. Everything was over.
She was surrounded.