This post about my personal experience of the Victorian Bushfire was originally published in 2009. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
The Victorian Bushfire Diary: Thursday, February 12th, 2009 – DAY SIX
We have accepted the generous hospitality of some friends who happen to have two dogs and a cat. Although the animals spend very little time in the house, I go to bed to an awful allergy-induced asthma attack. And where is my inhaler? At the home we evacuated almost a week ago, of course.
To give Kelly (and the rest of the household) some respite from my coughing, I retreat to the car to sleep. Or rather, I SIT in the car, as the seat is so old that it doesn’t recline at all.
So I sit bolt upright, coughing and wheezing, feeling incredibly sorry for myself.
I return back to bed having gained control over my coughing fits, hoping that the allergy pill I took an hour or so ago kicked in.
Just as I start to enter la-la-land, my cell phone rings. It is the Toronto Star, requesting a story about my Victorian Bushfire experiences so far. To make matters interesting, they are requesting the story by 5pm Toronto time – seven hours from now.
I try to go back to sleep, but the combination of (long-expired) allergy medication and the glass of wine I had before bed has made my mind and body race. And then I start coughing again, my allergies obviously putting up a good fight. So I resign myself to a sleepless night and camp out in the living room with my laptop and my headlamp.
I try to get some sleep on the couch, for fear of returning to bed and waking Kelly again with my allergy-induced coughing fits. I end up snoozing in fits for one hour, before the household arises fresh and ready for a new day. This is the first time in my memory that I have not slept for an entire night and faced a full day. I am curious to discover how I will manage.
The day is a total blur. During the morning (while it is evening in Toronto) I correspond back and forth with the Toronto Star about the article I wrote overnight and sent to meet their deadline. I am told that since the editor had called me in the middle of the night, she didn’t know if I would actually understand her request or even write the article(!), so it turns out that the article won’t go to print until the next day. Boo.
I also spend most of the day in inexplicable tears. I want to go home. The morning news of the fire situation is good though; this is the first day that no townships are under direct threat of fire. I wonder if we may be turning a corner, and if we might be able to return to our home. Sadly though we discover that it is still not safe and we are still Alexandra-bound; a crushing blow.
I berate myself for crying. I know I have so little to truly be upset about in comparison to the people who have lost loved ones and homes full of memories. This in turn makes me even more upset, sending me into further fits of tears.
I see a friend who is fighting the fires on the front lines in Taggerty with the CFA, who travels into Alexandra for some supplies. This is the first time I have seen him since Saturday. He is different. When asked how he is, the best response he can muster after a long sigh is “I’m pretty fucked.” I can only imagine; in fact I CAN’T imagine the things he has seen.
Finally by 2pm my friend Bob grabs me by the arm – sobbing mess that I am – and takes me back to his house nearby to sleep for a few hours. The fatigue is so tremendous though that although the sleep helps, I don’t feel refreshed from it. I do, however, have better control over my fits of crying. Small victories.
After finishing our day at the warehouse after 8pm and having some dinner, we are lost as to where to stay for the night. I still have no inhaler to rely on and am nervous about returning to the place we stayed at last night for fear of another allergy-induced sleepless night. Not to mention the ominous cloud of dark smoke emanating from their direction which makes me want to run screaming in the opposite direction.
So at 9pm, we sheepishly knock on Bob’s door and ask for a bed for the night. We are cordially taken in and given a wonderful mattress in the study (as they are billeting a few others as well who have the spare bedroom), and are in bed by 10:30pm. I climb into bed looking forward to a decent night of sleep. Hopefully.