My Blue Mountains bushfire experience

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Today’s writer is an RN and Credentialed Mental Health Nurse at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead. This is her personal account of the bushfire in the Springwood/Winmalee area on October 17, 2013.  

My morning started with a walk in Linksview Road – a pre-arranged walk with a friend, who is as unmotivated as I am when it comes to exercising. The wind was nothing unusual. I would describe it as the usual October gush that we experience in average spring weather in the lower mid-mountains. For a few brief moments, a more-than-usual surge of wind would disturb our conversation and an obvious pool of dried leaves would come onto our path, appearing as though somebody had swept them neatly.

The sound of insects was disturbingly loud – that is, if you’re not used to living in the mountains. It became increasingly hot as we reached the end of the walk. Not a surprise, as the prolonged exposure to the sun made it less tolerable to our not-usually-unprotected skin.  The traffic in Hawkesbury Road, the main road in Springwood/Winmalee, was sporadic. Most people were at work and the children and young people are at school.

My friend and I parted after a cool drink. As I was going to work nightshift that evening, I began to get myself ready to nap. Graveshift workers do not discriminate as to the time of day to sleep. I noticed that each room in the house was noisy, with branches of the pine tree hitting the roof and window. The hauling noise from the garage sounded like an angry monster from a Harry Potter movie. My dog refused to go out, even for a drink on the verandah.

I settled for the darkest room in the house, with my mobile phone next to the bed as my alarm clock. At 14:01 a message stated ‘NSWRFS EMERGENCY BUSHFIRE WARNING -Linksview Rd. Springwood – Seek shelter as the fire arrives. Check local radio, www.rfs.nsw.gov.au or 1800679737′.  The landline phone rang after that with the same recorded message.

I hurriedly got changed and informed my husband of the message. Having lived in the Blue Mountains for nearly 20 years, my husband and I have agreed verbal plans on what to do in fire emergencies. I take care of the children and the dog while he takes care of the house. My husband, with his restricted movement, can be stubborn and you would have to physically remove him from our burning house to keep him alive, let alone safe.

I rushed to pick up my child – the traffic remained steady. I was met by a staff member at the school gate informing me to make sure to sign a form to account for my child’s early departure. Not a lot of parents were present, but I could sense a composed panic in the administration office. My child smiled at me and seemed unaffected by the fuss. She said her friends were envious of her being picked up early.

As we were driving out of the school vicinity, roaring helicopters were above us
and a very loud and deafening message was being delivered. I cannot exactly recall the message, but I thought I had to get home to pick up my dog.

As we were getting close to the gate, the right side of the bush was in complete flame – red, angry, hot and being pushed by strong winds. I did not expect that. I was unable to go back to our street as firefighters had prevented the traffic in that direction. So I drove as far as possible out of the area for our safety, because the wind had become too intense for the flames. I feared for my husband and my dog. As soon as I settled in a safe area, I phoned work to inform them of my absence that night.

A couple of hours later, after numerous attempts to reach the home phone, my husband responded to tell me that he was safe. Our dog was also safe, curled up under the bed.

We lost 14 pine trees and the side shrubs and part of the back fence were burnt. Luckily, my house remained intact. For some, this was not the case.

The NSWNMA has extended support to members who were affected by the fires – more information here.

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