Dad in the Caravan
I took my daughter to a fancy hairdresser down in Pambula, an hour away from home. She doesn’t ask for that kind of thing often so I indulged her. There was fire everywhere in South East NSW that January. We had just watched the horror unfold at Mallacoota. We had been spared so far. We live on a 100 acre piece of paradise in Creewah, a half hour north east of Bombala. Mum and Dad’s place is just down the road. Dad had lung cancer and wasn’t doing great.
I was watching the RFS app like a hawk. There it was. The big, red “Out of Control” icon had appeared in Creewah. My husband rang. He is in the RFS and had been fighting fires in Mila for a week. He had decided to go home just on speck because a fire had starter 15 kilometres away in Cathcart. By the time he got home there was a fire less than a kilometre from our house. He was frantically evacuating the cats, dogs and had alerted my mum to get dad out. My daughter was in the hairdresser chair with a head full of foils so we sat and waited.
I met my family in Bombala that evening. We had a caravan that was in at the mechanic being rego checked, so we picked it up and towed it to a friends place. My husband and I and our two kids, three cats and four dogs inundated my friend, while we set my mum and dad up in the van. It was one of the most heart wrenching later moments in my dads life for me. My dad, all big, strong and proud, was struggling to breath, stuck in a caravan with an extension cord running out of the house for his oxygen. It was the best I could do and it was far from good enough.
Our homes survived that night. Amazingly they actually survived 12 days of being surrounded by fire. My husband was on duty for the next 12 days fighting to save our homes. We waited every evening to see if he would call from the house phone. Every night we would breathe a sigh of relief as he was say “House is still here”. 95 of my 100 acres burned, but not the house. The house survived.
My dad wasn’t so lucky. I ended up being able to have him admitted to the local hospital because the air was too thick and acrid for him to breathe. He never got to go home after being evacuated. He even stopped asking if he could in the last week. It was so sad. To be wrenched from your home, sick and scared and know you will never go back. For my mum also, who returned to her home but on her own, facing an uncertain future while parts of her property was still smoking.
Mum is doing OK. The bush on our property is growing back and life goes on.