I was racked with indecision the other day. It was something ultimately trivial, but something that had me flummoxed nonetheless.
“I just want a burning bush to show me what to do. Is that so much to ask?” I said in frustration.
Be careful what you ask for.
Amidst a torrential downpour, we see….it can’t be. Really. It must be fog or a strange cloud formation. It can’t possibly be…smoke.
Lightning is generally cause for strict attention to the landscape, not only because of the spectacular display, but also for the fire hazard. With Australia being in a long-standing drought and prone to bush fires as much as it is, a lightning storm is all that’s needed to transform the tinder-like forests into mini kilns.
But with the heavy rain accompanying the lightning on this day, I can’t imagine a fire actually taking hold. It is just too damn wet.
Or is it?
Kelly reports the smoke to emergency services (which is 000 here, not 911), while we sit on our front step and watch it rising from a patch of forest on the side of a hill just across the road from us. An hour later when no trucks have arrived (and after more rain no less – I wouldn’t blame them for being a little slow to respond given the unlikelihood that a fire would take hold), the smoke has culminated into an all-out fire.
More rain falls yet, and it seems only to fuel the fire, which is now engulfing half a dozen trees from base to crown. We are now not only watching a spectacular display of lightning; we are also watching a spectacular fire take hold.
Another call is made to emergency services to update them on the fire situation.
“Yes, it really is on fire…Yes, the fire is getting bigger…Yes, it’s raining cats and dogs out here…”
Kelly doesn’t actually have to work hard to convince emergency services that there is a fire worth attending to, but I still can’t believe my eyes. We continue to watch the fire grow in the lulls between thunder cells, and ebb while buckets of water come down but never manage to extinguish the flames.
Finally some fire trucks arrive, teetering precariously on a saddle back between hills and working hard to get close to the fire. I can only imagine how tricky it is for these awkward blocky pumper trucks to have made it this far. (After the fact, we learn that two trucks almost rolled down the hill into oblivion trying to negotiate the slippery track and steep angle. No wonder it took a while for them to respond to the fire).
I expect that with fire fighters on scene, the fire will be cleaned up in no time.
I chat on the phone with the girlfriend of one of the firefighters. “I don’t expect to see him home all night now,” she says, in what I feel is a fatalistic tone of voice.
“Don’t be silly,” I say. “The fire is almost out; he should be home in a jiffy.”
What I think is a fire that is almost out seems actually to be a fire that is only getting stronger. Eight hours later, we go to bed for the night with red and blue fire truck lights going, the beams of the crew’s torches oscillating like it’s a night at the Academy Awards, and the orange glow of a persistent fire struggling against the best efforts of three crews of wet and frustrated fire fighters.
The following morning, crews are still on-scene, and although we don’t see flames any longer, a trail of smoke still streams from the forest across the road.
Although through this minor ordeal we don’t have any fear of the fire burning out of control like it did on Black Saturday, I am amazed at the sheer power and tenacity of fire, even during a rain storm. It is yet another reminder that we are just tenuous tenants on this land, where mother nature calls the shots.