After the Fires

Friday, December 20, 2019

The day dawned hot with gusty winds. There was an eerie feeling about it. At around 8.45 am, I heard that a fire had started on Hollands Creek Road at Cudlee Creek approximately 10 kms west of Lobethal, in the beautiful Adelaide Hills in South Australia.

I couldn’t see any smoke, but by 9.30 am it was evident that there was a raging bushfire burning. Having experienced a similar situation in another place in 2014, when I chose to stay and defend my property, this time I was leaving.

While getting together all I knew I would be taking, if this situation arose, I received a call from one of my granddaughters, a former fire-fighting volunteer now living in Adelaide: “Nan, do you know there is a fire and what are you doing?”

I said: “I am getting ready to leave and am going to the Last Resort Refuge at Mount Torrens.” This is about 10 kms north-east from my home.

“Don’t go there, the fire will be there this afternoon. Go to Gran’s at Oakbank [11 kms south-west],” she replied.

Soon after this the power was cut off.

I packed some extra food, loaded the car, closed the house, and told my neighbour I was leaving. The feeling as I left is inexplicable. I prayed for and was given strength and courage to continue. I chose to leave via Ridge Road which overlooks Lobethal. The vision was horrifying. I could see only thick smoke high up with flames amongst it. The radio reported the fire was now on Western Branch Road on the western edge of our small town.

It was a slow trip out, obviously many evacuating, some with horse floats in tow. On-coming was fire truck after fire truck and numerous police cars. Then came a report that businesses in the main street were being threatened.

It seemed to take forever to reach Oakbank!

Only there a short time, we received a report that Oakbank and nearby Nairne were now threatened, and we were advised to leave. Another granddaughter whose home was threatened in Nairne, phoned to tell us to follow her to Murray Bridge, on the River Murray, some 35 kms almost east of Nairne.

The radio reported fires everywhere – seemingly unbelievable, but with the wind direction changing continually spot fires were starting ahead of the main fire!

My daughter joined us in Murray Bridge; her hills home in Charleston was now under threat. We all spent a very anxious afternoon, unable to contact anyone as the mobile phone service was out. We returned to Nairne where we stayed the night. A message came through that Mount Torrens was burning. The fire was clearly visible.

Saturday morning

I found my home had been spared but I was unable to return until late afternoon. I was very thankful to have a home to return to with no damage, but the properties across the road were severely affected by the fires. There were fires still burning with smoke haze visible for days. It was into the new year before the “all clear” was given.

There were 80 houses lost in the reasonably small, but closely inhabited area of gently rolling land that is part of the Adelaide Hills.

December 2020

Australian native grasses regenerate after bushfires in the Adelaide Hills

Australian native grasses regenerate after bushfires in the Adelaide Hills

An echidna forages for food among the regenerating bushland after the Adelaide Hills bushfire

An echidna forages for food among the regenerating bushland after the Adelaide Hills bushfire

Almost a year on and we are still traumatised. Few are willing to actually put into words their feelings. Some of us feel guilty that we’re in the fire area but did not experience any physical direct damage from the flames, while our friends and neighbours lost their homes, their livelihoods and businesses, and many other earthly treasures and keepsakes that formed part of their lives and families. So many things are now just memories.

We have a Bushland Park about two kms out of Lobethal that had never been burned out in more than 100 years. One was able to switch off from the outside world while walking in that park. It is only a small reserve, but the many coloured birds would sing, and the tall trees would shield the sun from burning the young growth. This fire wiped it out. It was devastating to go out and look at the burnt trees and the bare, black ground where all the plants and shrubs had grown and regenerated over the years.

Today the flowers have returned and are in full bloom, and the little native orchids and ferns are re-growing. The tall gums that survived the heat and fire are sprouting along the trunks. After all the devastation, new life is very visible as the small seeds shoot and develop into beautiful plants. The native animals and birds are coming back but it will be some years before the bushland returns to its former glory. The park will survive, but it will be very different.

Our heavenly Father has watched over us and is now making everything new.

From material supplied by Pam Schultz and Bev Eckermann
Photos by Josephine Brickhill

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Bev Eckermann

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