Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Where There Is Smoke There Is Fire

The heat of summer lingered and continued to hold us in its grips even though the days were growing considerably shorter. We decided to head a couple of hours south to try and find some relief from the unseasonable heat. We had picked our final destination, Wellington National Park, not because of its several waterholes but for its magnificent eucalyptus forests and several hiking trails. 
We were on our final approach to the park when we passed a large smoke plume. The burning fire was far away and wouldn't impact us, but as I watched the billowing black smoke I couldn't help but feel sad since I knew the drought conditions would make it hard to control the fire.
At the park entrance we turned off the bitumen onto a red iron track. Slowly, we made our way deep into the forest, and we were soon surrounded by towering mahogany colored trees. At the campground, when we exited the car, a feeling of uneasiness came over me. I quickly realized\ we were surrounded by red. It was not just the ground and trees, but the air had taken on a red tinge--the result of the sun filtering through the haze created by the distant fire.
We were so anxious to hit the trail that we couldn't be bothered with setting up camp. Instead we set out a table and some chairs to mark our territory, and hit the trail. 
The single track followed a crystal clear creek, and even though the water looked inviting we knew we had to carry on, especially if we were to complete the 20 kilometer loop before dusk.  At least the temperatures deep in the river valley were cool. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before the track left the valley and headed up a steep escarpment. As we zigzagged our way up the hill the air became warmer and thicker. When we reached the top of the hill our view was hindered by the smoke that was rolling in over the valley. If we hadn't known where the actual fire was at this point we might have become concerned, but we knew it was far enough away that we need not worry. At least that was what we thought until we were an hour further down the rim. 
The eerie red glow that had accompanied us earlier that morning had been replaced by a shroud of grey. We stopped to scan the horizon for an indication that the fire was moving our way. There were no plumes or flames to be seen, but the thick warm air had been replaced with a searing hot breeze. We began to question if we had made a mistake and if the fire was closer than we thought or, even worse, had a second bushfire started in our vicinity. We tried to remain calm and kept trying to convince ourselves that if the fire were close we would see flames, and that it was just the wind that was carrying the heat and smoke. At that point we were less than half-way into the loop and it was time for us to decide whether to turn back towards our car or carry on. The decision was difficult, but we figured that, by continuing, within 30 minutes we would be at the dam and our return trip would take us along the river which would become useful if there was indeed a fire traveling our way. As we continued on I couldn't help but beat myself up mentally for not being bushfire prepared--we didn't have all cotton clothes and hadn't left our hiking plans with anyone--how could we have been so careless? This experience would certainly go down as a lesson learned in the outback.   
Our fast steps quickly brought us to the dam and even thought it contained very little water we couldn't help but feel relief.  As we dropped back down into the cool air of the river valley we knew our fear turned from fire to arriving back at camp before dark. 

1 comment:

  1. Trekcapri (Kathy)June 2, 2011 at 12:37 PM

    Hi Maya, wow. I would've been really scared, thinking about the fire. Hope the fire was contained quickly and it didn't do too much damage.

    Have a great evening.