Sydney Bushfires

Right across the Greater Sydney bushfires are burning out of control. Over one hundred and fifty homes have been lost, and fortunately only one life so far. We are currently experiencing hotter than usual weather patterns for this time of year, today’s forecast is 32 degrees Celsius with hotter and windy days to come.

This is the view from the Crago Observatory on top of Bowen Mountain, the fire is approximately 6km away, a change in the wind direction could fan the fires in our direction, it is a critical time with many nervous residents on the mountain preparing for the worst.

State Mine Fires

Volunteers and firefighters are working around the clock to fight these fires, back burning bush where possible, they are doing a fantastic job, if not for them thousands of homes and lives would have already been lost.

State Mine Fires animation

As I watched the glow of the fires over and beyond our valley I listened to the National Radio Station for updates and warnings. A caller by the name of Jeff Cook phoned in to recount his experience of a previous devastating fire which tore across Sydney during the summer days of January, February 1994. Jeff who hails from South Australia was flown to Sydney to help fights these fires as part of the South Australia Country Fire Services (SA CFS), Jeff wrote his experience in a telling poem, and narrated it live on radio as I watched on.

 

THE BUSHFIRE EXPERIENCE

 

From the airplane we could smell it as we flew towards the east

While the smoke-filled skies encompassed us our chatter never ceased

We were flying to the firegrounds -our hardened fire crews

Where nature wreaked her vengeance through her fire-hungry fuse

 

As we crossed the rugged mountains where the pioneers once trod

We couldn’t see the flames for smoke and pondered on our God

Then as we drew to Sydney we saw calamity unfolding

and found them unbelievable, these scenes we were beholding

 

We were driven via freeways – which you’d think were free from harm

To where we saw the burnt-out outskirts, now devoid of all their charm

Where the city-dwelling people now had stories they could tell

Of how they and all their neighbours had come face to face with hell

 

There were dramatic signs of what had been, remains of what was lost

Midst the burnt and smouldering forests from which sprang this holocaust

Where the animal and birdlife gave all that they could give

As the bushfires overtook them they had perished where they lived

 

As we drove on through the cinders through the suffocating smoke

The searing, swirling winds hit us, the ashes made us choke

We rallied at a meeting place, they assigned us to a truck

And as we went to meet the fire we wished each other luck

 

I can’t describe the horror of the inferno that we saw

Or didn’t see because of smoke, although we heard the roar

Like a thousand locomotives and a million screeching tyres

Plus a furnace all around us as we tried to fight the fires

 

There was heroism aplenty shown by every person there

For you had to be a hero to breathe that gross and fetid air

filled with burning leaves and ash and smoke, the scream of roaring wind

If hell is half as bad as this, I regret that I have sinned

 

While the other crews worked with us we could only strive to save

Some houses and belongings which the god of fire forgave

For our puny little hoses against the massive fire’s thrust

Were as sprinklers in a desert of a thousand years of dust

 

Though we never ever thought that we would see a fire like this

The exercises we had done no longer just hypothesis

But we fought with strengths God gave us and the power of reasoning too

With all our training and our planning telling us just what to do

 

The locals bought refreshments of coffee, tea and food

But the circumstances of our breaks were hurried, hot, and crude

While we breathed a bit of better air we relived what we’d done

Exchanging tales with other crews of battles lost and won

 

The camaraderie we found while fighting nature’s worst

Has forged us to a fighting team, so proud our hearts could burst

And we wondered at the kind of heart that lit so many fires

the arsonist with one little match and nature’s multipliers.

 

 

What kind of man would put at risk so many lives of others

The families living all around, small children, fathers, mothers?

Could he conceive the heartbreak that he’d precipitated?

The losses that no man could fix would go uncompensated.

 

For who can replace photographs, or working dogs or pets?

Free children from the nightmare that every night besets?

And who replace the homes, the dreams, restore the memories?

It can’t be done no matter what, for nothing can appease!

 

*    *    *

They flew us home in just four days – some lighter by a stone

And all with horror memories of the hell we’d lived alone

With our families far away from us, lungs filled with ash and smoke

And newfound friends and counterparts with whom we’d barely spoke

And every firefighter who had helped us to defend

Had shared so much together we’d be mates unto the end.

 

Jeff Cook, Minlaton SA 5575 Ph 08 88532237             0407 939994

jeffcookpoet@bigpond.com

(written after SA CFS  crews went to NSW to fight fires around Sydney)

 

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Thank you Jeff for sharing your poetry with us, your words gives us a glimpse of what it is like to be standing face to face with a burning inferno. A part of our Australian heritage but one will never grow accustomed to.

 

***Please note that Jeff is happy to share his poetry with others under the proviso that his details are kept with his work***

***Please Respect His Wishes***

 

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