Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Happy 2020 ...

Well, after a horror day yesterday, New Year's Day dawned cool and clear with just a tinge of smoke in the air.

So far, other than smoke, and a few minor scares - we've come to dread the distinctive doorbell sound of the VicEmergency app - we're ok.

Until yesterday, New Year's Eve, it had actually not been too bad here in Beechworth.  Smoke and stupidly hot afternoons have seen me getting up at 0630 in the morning to water the garden, but otherwise it's been business as normal, with the only truly bad day being the Saturday before Christmas when J had a bad asthma attack, and I was thinking I would have to drive her to hospital, however she found an unused script for a steroid based relaxant to help her breathe, and the pharmacy allowed her to buy extra ventolin and preventive, even though the only outstanding script was out of date.

Other than that it was relatively normal. No visits from friends or family, but a nice quiet Christmas in which we ate too much seafood, accompanied by a decent bottle of Mumm champagne.

And so it went on. I had a half formed plan to install linux on my old laptop, but instead read books, history, literature, detective stories, gardened a little, and relaxed.

We were in a bubble.

Yesterday was different. Even at 0630 it was warm - mid twenties - sticky and smoky with no breeze to speak of.

Newsradio was a continual torrent of reports about the fires in Gippsland and the the New South Wales South Coast, and each one seemed to be worse than before.

The news sites were no better. Reports were confused, contradictory even, but the subtext was clear - something very bad was happening, and all the time the emergency app was warning of minor fires closer to home.

I think we felt it more because East Gippsland and the South Coast are areas we know well - Lakes Entrance is after all our nearest ocean beach, and when we lived in Canberra we regularly used to escape to the South Coast to relax, swim, and walk in the coastal forest. We even seriously considered moving there when I retired.

We actually got to the point yesterday afternoon where we switched off the radio and started rationing our checking for updates as they were making us more fearful.

After all we had our phones and the dread warning ping.

As it was, it was all ok. The wind changed round to the south in the afternoon and the temperature began to drop. We'd hoped for rain, but only got a few heavy greasy splots, but it did mean the danger had passed for now.

Last night we had lobster tails and another bottle of bubbly. When we went for a walk after dark the town was very quiet, almost eerily so. While the restaurants and bars were busy, the streets were quiet.

When we stopped for a drink at the only cocktail bar in town - despite being the only one, it's very very good, even if the prices are more like those you'd expect in Singapore rather than country Victoria - we had no trouble getting an outside table, and could probably have got one inside if we'd tried.

And then home. We watched the fireworks on tv and then went to bed.

This morning was a complete contrast to yesterday - smokier, but almost chilly - cold even.

We were still nervous - the sound of a heavy diesel truck in the early morning heading down one of the cross streets in the direction of the gorge made us start - was it a fire truck?

It wasn't.

But it did make us think again about our fire plans. Even though it has a steel roof, our house is made of wood and surrounded by trees. If there was a bad fire I don't think it would survive.

We decided what to take - passports, credit cards, laptops, phones, iPads, some irreplaceable mementos and other valuable items and medication and a first aid kit.

All our documents are scanned and stored in the cloud, and we have a whole lot of recent photos of the house interior to show our insurers what we had, including pictures of appliances and furniture, so we don't need to worry about taking documents with us.

If we have time, we'll also pack a holdall with some clean clothes, soap, toothpaste and toilet paper, and our old sleeping bags in case we have to sleep on the floor somewhere. Bottled water, a box of muesli bars, crackers, cheese and canned tuna.

We have an old Katadyn filter, from when we went bush walking. One of my tasks is to find it and check it, and if it's still good, it'll go in the emergency box - on the South Coast to power failed knocking out the water treatment plant.

The other thing to come out of the whole thing is just how important twitter and facebook were in getting the message out - and of course that means a working phone. Neither of our cars is new enough to have a USB charging socket, so today I bought two phone chargers - one for each car, plus some spare cables - like the smoke masks and the Katadyn filter they'll go in the emergency box.

And of course we've set up location finding on each other's phones in case we're separated - one scenario being that J leaves with the cat and the essentials and I stay to pack any last minute items we want to take.

Hopefully we'll never need to put our plan into action, but it's important to plan. We're forecast rain at the weekend, but also a couple of bad fire days before then ...

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