Every summer for the past 12 years, I’ve been fighting fires as part of my CFA brigade. It’s been a good 12 years – and a hard slog – but worth it. This year was another early start to the fire season – we’d seen it coming but it still knocked the wind out of us. So ferocious, so soon.
Still, one thing hasn’t changed: the generosity of the people who have lost everything.
Around this time last year, we were in Bunyip as fires swept through Victoria and Tasmania burned across the sea. I remember all our trucks pulling up to a hydrant in the tiny town of Licola to refill our tanks. Almost immediately locals started to come out of their homes to offer us fruit, home-baked muffins, cakes and cold bottles of water.
Fast forward to early November 2019 and I was deployed to Grafton with other volunteers. Landing at Coffs Harbour, the first thing you notice is how thick the air is with smoke. And the smell of scorched earth. It smells like nothing else I’ve ever come across. You can hear it, too, the dead quiet after a fire has gone through. No wildlife, just the hiss of the hose on the hot ground. And there, surrounded by black trees on all sides, the scrap of shops and homes still standing where the people have all gathered together. This time they’d been breathing that smoke for weeks and weeks before our arrival.