Tag Archives: giant praw

The Bushfire Legacy

Just over a year ago, our local community narrowly escaped the onslaught of a devastating bushfire that burnt over 2,850 hectares of bushland in the area. In my post shortly afterwards, I wrote my personal account of an event I have never experienced before, nor wish to again.P1000917

[One of the photos I took in October 2013 in the immediate aftermath of the bushfire]

So, what has changed 12 months on? The Big Prawn on the Pacific Highway has not been rebuilt, and, given its rather odd location, I wonder whether the site will ever be redeveloped. But the bushland is beautiful once again. The first new shoots emerged from the ashy ground just a couple of weeks after the fire, and a colourful array of green and gold has gradually spread through the trees and undergrowth. Yes, there are still reminders of flames in the charred tree trunks, but overall it has been a fascinating example of nature’s ability to regenerate in record time.P1020507-001P1020501-001

In fact, fire has very positive consequences for the Australian bush. Eucalypts release their seeds in the intense heat of the flames; wattle seeds that have lain dormant in the soil burst open; and the bed of ash left behind is full of vital nutrients to allow strong new growth. And these are just a few examples. Little wonder then that the Aboriginals used fire as a tool to revitalise the bush environment.P1020505-001

This Factsheet is a great source of information on the impact of fire on Australian bushland regeneration.

The Bushfire

Bushfires have been blazing across NSW for days now, with firefighters working tirelessly to contain them. But it seems as soon as one blaze is brought under control, another flares up somewhere else. Wildlife and bushland have been decimated, homes and businesses destroyed and, in our local area, one life lost as a man fought to save his property from the flames. Who knows what the final toll will be?P1000809

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I have never experienced a bushfire first-hand before. I didn’t grow up with them. Like many though, I have seen pictures in the news and read articles in the paper; but I had not really thought twice about them afterwards. A big mistake, as this is bushfire country and it’s a very different story when one is burning on your doorstep. This is my account of our lakeside community’s narrow escape from disaster as a local bushfire raged through the bush and scrub engulfing everything in its path.

It all happened so quickly.

Thursday had been a fairly ordinary day; Icklegen and I had spent most of it close to home. As I was clearing up after tea, I commented to my partner that it looked like a sepia photograph outside: sky, water and trees all in varying shades of cream and brown, and slightly hazy around the edges. A while later, I noticed my mobile phone was flashing with new messages and casually picked it up to check them. And on the screen in huge letters appeared an EMERGENCY WARNING from the Rural Fire Service, advising me of a fire a couple of kilometres away and to “seek shelter as the fire arrives.”

Suddenly, our peaceful little world was turned upside-down. Heading outside, we found our neighbours gathered in a small group, watching vast clouds of smoke billowing in the near distance. Way too close for comfort. And with the smoke came a distinct bonfire smell, not too strong, but ominpresent. We were locked in by road: as the only access in and out to the highway was a fiery battlezone. There was discussion of potential evacuation, but the general consensus was to stay alert and wait for further updates.

Needless to say, it was a very unsettled night. The smoke grew thicker, and the smell grew stronger, over the hours that followed. When I woke in the very early hours of the morning, the sky was red with flames and the wind was gusting outside. It was terrifying and I don’t think I slept a wink until dawn; I was regularly checking the Internet for updates on the fire’s status in case we needed to take action, and popping in on Icklegen to see that she was sleeping safely.

The situation did appear to have calmed by morning, but in reality the fire was far from out. In fact, by the early afternoon it had escalated to such an extent that we were close to being evacuated, then the alert level was reduced again, and so it continued until news went out that the fire was finally under control and the access road to the highway open. We were no longer locked in, or locked out, by flames, but the world out there looks very different to how it did just last week.P1000813

{A touching gesture: a water container left out for local wildlife in the burnt-out bush}

The beautiful access road in from the highway is almost unrecognisable. The glorious array of green, gold and brown has been replaced by blackened stumps, brown crispy leaves and a thick layer of ash as far as the eye can see. The Big Prawn on the Pacific Highway is still lying atop his post, but the accompanying business venture is a tangled ruin. And this is just a small section of the 2879 hectares devastated by flames in our area.P1000814P1000817

Of course, the phoenix will once again arise from the ashes: the bush will regenerate, businesses and homes will be rebuilt and people who have lost everything will gradually piece together their lives. But the wound is still very fresh, the fires are still burning, and, in this country of extremes, who knows what may lie around the corner.

What is your experience of bushfires? Do you have any useful advice to share?