Australian Women’s Weekly NZ

COURAGE UNDER FIRE

The noise. That’s what you don’t get in the footage and photos. The terrible, terrible noise of a big bushfire. The malignant sound of the wind as the fire sucks in the oxygen it needs to grow. The hissing and popping of eucalyptus trees, the explosions as they release their gases. Fires make their own weather, creating their own wind, lightning, black hail. “The noise,” says Liane Henderson, volunteer firefighter of 20 years standing, “is like jet planes.”

If we’re lucky we’ll never know what it’s like inside an uncontained fire. Liane does, and so do her firefighting colleagues. It’s dark, like an eclipse. “It can get very scary because you can get disoriented. It’s another world when you are out there, it really is.” An unpredictable fast-moving force of destruction, engulfing everything in its path. “I look at it as this beast I’ve got to stop,” says Liane, Acting Inspector for Rural Fire Service (RFS), Queensland. “It’s us against that, but every fire is different. These things have minds of their own.”

This is a season of fire. Australia is burning up. The fires that have raged across the eastern seaboard in these past months have been unprecedented – the sheer scale of them, coming so early in the driest spring ever recorded, with a ferocity that’s never been seen before. At the time of writing, more than 700 homes, six lives and over two million hectares have been lost in mega-fires that are breaking all records months before the start of the traditional fire season.

Fire, reported, has never or rarely devoured rainforests, wet eucalypt forests, dried-out swamps, ancient forests in Tasmania that have not burned for 1000 years, but they’ve all burned this spring and summer. And as the fires escalate, Australia is in uncharted territory.

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