Yesterday, the temperature here reached 39 degrees celsius. We were lucky – many parts of the State had temperatures in the low 40’s. Even so, we didn’t feel lucky – high heat, high winds and dry vegetation is a dangerous mix. In our former life, in the middle of a large city, we would have said ‘Phew – it’s hot!” and retreated from our non-air-conditioned house to somewhere that was air-conditioned – a shopping centre, a cinema, a friend’s house, or failing that, to our relatively cooler lounge room which was semi-underground. Sipping a long cool drink we would have had a very lazy Summer day. Sitting down, relaxing and trying to focus on other things. Triying to forget how hot it was, and waiting for the cooler evening.
Out here, that simply isn’t an option.
While we do have air-conditioning in our new house, our location means we have to be far more vigilant. This involves going outside regularly to check for smoke. While doing so mid-morning, we noticed a Swamp Wallaby at the edge of the dam. This has not happened before – swamp wallabies usually sleep during the day, only to emerge between dusk and dawn. It was obviously hot, and trying to cool down. At first it was too wary of us to hang around, but as the heat increased, its need for cool water outweighed its fear. At one point in the day, the wallaby was laying half submerged in the dam to cool itself.
For us, being prepared means having our Fire Plan in place, being packed ready to evacuate if necessary, and regularly checking the CFA application which shows us the location of any fires in Australia.
Yesterday, we were torn between the need to just get on with our day, and the need to constantly monitor our environemt. Our earlier decision to have a satelite installed proved necessary on such a hot day. Without it, we would have had no way of monitoring our local area through the CFA Warning and Incidents page.
This web and smartphone application shows fires and other incidents on three levels:
Level 1: Advice notifications show new fires which are low level and largely controlled. While these incidents need to be monitored in case they escalate, in most cases these situations are quickly controlled and the threat alleviated.
Level 2: Watch and Act notifications cover fires and incidents which are subject to changes in conditions and where people or property may be in danger. When a Watch and Act notification is issued it is time to leave the area or, for those who are equipped to defend their property, to begin impelementing their planned actions.
Level 3 Emergency Warnings are issued when people are in imminent danger and must act immediately to protect themselves.
The app refreshes itself every five minutes, and yesterday we found ourselves checking it every five minutes. It was a vital part of our information network. Being new in the area, we had no idea what was normal, and wanted to stay fully informed. We were able to see that while some Advice warnings related to localities in the region, they were outside the area we identified as having the potential to impact us. Most were controlled quickly, and dissappeared from the current warnings list. This was reasuring.
Sadly, as I write this, several uncontrollable busfires are burning around Australia. The State of Tasmania, in particular, has been severely hit. In the last news bulletin, reports of houses being lost, townships under siege and people trapped on a beach waiting for rescue predominate. How scary this would be.
Listening to the broadcasts yesterday, and monitoring the CFA app, we were prompted to revisit our fire plan. What if…? What else would we need to take with us if we left…? Have we forgotten anything…?
In the end yesterday was an uneventful day for us – but a busy one. Monitoring the CFA app, checking our land, looking for smoke and revising the fire plan took up most of our day. Being vigilant and alert isn’t relaxing, and this is the way we will need to spend many days over January and February (the two hottest months of Summer) and into Autumn. It’s part of the deal in moving out here. Heat, wind and dry conditions are part of the natural cycle. We can try our best to be safe by being prepared, having a plan, and acting on it, but ultimately we can only respond to the situation that faces us, and we won’t have any control over that . It may differ from what we have envisaged. In moving here, we have taken on an obligation be vigilant every day. Our neighors and extended community depend on it as much as we do – as we rely on them.
Today is warm and summery – pleasantly summery. It’s the type of weather which makes me feel like curling up on a chair with a book and forgetting about the rest of the world. I can do half of this – curling up with a book is fine, but I can no longer afford the luxury of focussing on anything but the heat or forgetting about the rest of the world. I need to keep checking (just every now and again) to make sure that everything else is still Ok – even when it’s too hot to think, even when Swamp Wallabies emerge to cool off in the dam.