“Thankyou Firies! (heart)”
“Thankyou Firies! The Blue Mountains Loves You! (heart)”
“Thankyou firieis, cops, ambos, salvos” then they ran out of ink.
Homemade banners are hung over the highway from pedestrian overpass bridges. They are tacked onto the sides of small businesses – a vintage furniture shop – on whichever side has greater highway view, painted onto the fence of a rare plant nursery.
The highway is where they have the best chance of being seen. The highway cuts through the mountains east to west, from the edges of Sydney on route to the middle of Australia.
The signs are a tribute, the best we can do under short notice; an old sheet and some house paint. That’ll do!
But there are others signs and they are only now coming to light.
In our garden we have two large gum trees. Wait I need to check that:
We have seven. Anyway. I knew we had some. Most days I pick up fallen branches from the ground. They fall to the ground because it is so often windy here. I pick them up because I don’t want it to get too snakey down the back, I tell Pete. If there is refuse on the ground the snakes might think it was a nice home. Ditto long grass which is also outlawed.
So we have clear paths, no sticks and no grass. It is beautiful but very dry; the other night it rained for twenty seconds.
Plus Pete just broke the tank water pump so now we only water the garden with the fruits of Warragamba Dam, the dam that serves us and the whole region including Sydney. The fruits come out of the tap. Luckily – and this is sort of beside the point – the dam is full because last year there were floods. Please. Tell me about it.
Nevertheless it is good practice to pick up fallen branches. It stands to reason: if there is a lot of refuse on the ground it looks terrible plus it creates a bonfire stack plus it could look like nice home for snakes- much as they are beautiful and most of them timid (although someone recently told me the very deadly brown snake likes to charge at you) I would much prefer it if they lived elsewhere. There is plenty of nice bush not two hundred meters from here. Over there. See?
(Editors note: It is not possible to be more than dead.)
Regarding the bushfires, they were all over the place. Near us there were two. The fires down the road and the fires up the road. They were both in the other valley so Pete and I were pretty safe.
But in the weeks since a number of things have come to light. This story is about one of them.
The fires up the road were started by a team from the Australian Defence Force during army ammunitions training. That fire took three family homes but it was the greater fire. It sent more than fifty thousand hectares of this country up in flames.
One of the things we have learned since – and this is not the thing I am writing about – is that for all the good it does, the defense force has an officially unofficial guide to managing bushfires, meaning they don’t really have a bushfire management plan so too bad if they start one. That is official. Most people now think it is not good enough.
The fires down the road, the ones that burned two hundred homes, started with an overhead electrical wire. The electrical wire was okay then it was hit by the flying branch of a tree.
And this is what has come to light: for so long we have been told the story of fire bugs. We hear about suspicious circumstances, unknown culprits.
Arsonists, we ask ourselves? How could it be?
Yet it turns out there are hardly any. There are no suspicious circumstances mostly, no fire bugs.
The greatest cause of major bushfires in this country is overhead electrical wires.
Some history; if you don’t like history maybe just look at the pictures.
In 1989 a bushfire linked to overhead wires crossed two states, South Australia and Victoria. It was the worst bushfire the country had ever seen. Yet the cause was not commonly understood.
Four years ago Victoria had another major fire, even worse than before. There was a horrible death toll. Of those that died nearly all are known to have died in a fire started by overhead power lines.
Meanwhile South Australia has stayed major bushfire free, so far the only state in its category. When there is extreme fire danger in that state today they turn off the power. Not in the whole state but in those regions most likely to go to in flames. Last time was a day last year. The power went off for seven hours. Then it was turned it back on again.
If you went to Victoria today you would get all the power you wanted on any day of the year. Same here in New South Wales. And we still have them.
The reason offered in Victoria is that being topographically flatter than the other states it is harder to determine where to turn the power off. I don’t know what our excuse is. Blue Mountains. The clue is in the name.
To mitigate against further loss Victoria is now replacing thousands of kilometers of old power lines over ten years. Yet as one expert put it: “We just have to hope there are no bushfires in the next eight years.” He didn’t look very convinced though.
Outside the wind is howling again. Those who have lived here forever say it is extraordinary.
Earlier there were sirens. We drove past two fire engines on the way home.
The fire bugs have gone. We are only left with this.
Images: the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia