Last Monday I was in town (which isn’t usual) and happened to hear on The Country Hour that the RFS was bringing in the fire permit season a month earlier than they have for the past few years. It used to be 1st October. For the past couple of years it has been 1st September. Now they were saying 1st August.
That meant we had 3 days to do a month’s burning! Farmers generally burn off in August – after the frosts have killed the grass and the air temps have increased. So bringing forward the deadline was a foolhardy decision by the RFS. It would have been better to have told us all in June or July that if there was no rain, they would be bringing in the permit season earlier.
I had been for a big walk, high into the bush the previous day, looking for the star picket post remover which seems to have vanished into thin air! I hadn’t been up there for maybe 6 months and I was amazed by the depth of the leaf litter and the branches and other debris littering the bushscape. After 7 lush wet years and then the high, drying, winds we have experienced lately, I was walking on 6 inches of crackly, slippery, dryness and navigating fallen tree limbs very few feet.
We hadn’t burnt up there for about 4 years and clearly, if we wanted to be safe in the event of a catastrophic fire summer, we needed to light it up.
We don’t like to burn, unlike many farmers who use it as an intrinsic part of their overstocked cattle feeding regime. But occasionally we use it as a tool to clean up an area or lighten the fuel load to protect us against a hot summer fire.
With the forecast el nino spring and summer, and as we back onto State Forest, we feel compelled to protect ourselves. Our lovely neighbour has been asking us to light up behind part of our property and into hers for years. So we lit into the bush behind us, Ged stayed home and we had our English wwoofers, Ben & Naomi on hand in case of escapee blazes (we have all had one ‘get away on us’! and burn a paddock we didn’t intend to!)
All went well for a couple of days but on Friday when little Ben and I began our descent off Comboyne mountain after preschool we saw a haze of thick smoke in the valley and were worried! As we drove along the final stretch of Tilbaroo and looked over to our land, we saw a spreading grass fire where we definitely had no intention of burning!
Through the gate, through the river, up the bank, hooting and shouting to Ged ‘the farm is on fire!’ He leapt in his car with the fire beaters and we stopped long enough at The Tree House to hoot and yell the same dire message to the wwoofers and then we all raced over to ‘the other side’ as if we were competing for the world rally racing championships!
Little Ben and I checked the bees while the boys raced into fire fighting mode. The bees had fled and Ben and I were devastated. Not again! (I was responsible for the last getaway blaze & have been banned from playing with matches for life!) We met up with the boys and sent Naomi & little Ben home (I need to do a poo, Mummy!)
It didn’t take long to get it all under control. The bees came home and are busy, busy. But the bush is still burning. The neighbours say it hasn’t been burnt for 20 years or more. Better a cool winter burn than a raging summer furnace travelling at 30kms an hour – with the tops of oily eucalypts alight, fireballs and radiant heat. Unfortunately State Forests and National Parks are little managed, so we are giving them a long overdue clean out and in this valley we can all feel a lot safer and more prepared for whatever Mother Nature may throw at us in terms of drought . . .
The valley still has a smoky haze, the helicopters are keeping an eye on the fires on distant hills and we can relax, hoping that this will keep us safe this summer . . . the river is SO low, the creek is almost dry, the dams too. When we arrived here the drought was ending. We have had 7 years of flood and fertility. This is going to be a new experience for us on this land we love. But we will weather it. And we will grow and learn. We have to. That is the lesson of Mother Nature who tempts, taunts, tries, feeds and clothes us. Like every woman she has many moods and is sometimes swift to change them. Like every woman she makes us happy when she is balanced – sun and rain.
Right now we are praying for rain . . .