16 January, 2020

Wingello - It's What We Do

On the night of the fire and over the ten days since, so many people in Wingello have gone above and beyond in helping their fellow villager. I have pointed out a few on the store's Facebook page, but the trend is clear. We have a great group of people that call Wingello home.
But there is one thing in common. None of them like being thanked, especially in public.
When we approached our neighbours and thanked them, they shrugged and said, "That's just what we do." (More about their efforts here)
The Firies in action (Stylised)
The Firies who did a heroic effort holding the fire at the Railway Line and then saving more houses in the almost continuous mopping up operation, also get embarrassed at the praise and say, "It's just what we do." (A snippet of their massive efforts are here)
The villagers with heavy equipment that instantly went to work helping the Fire Brigade clear up dangerous trees and areas to make it safe for us to return wouldn't accept thanks, saying "We didn't do anything special, it's just what we do."
Someone needs to be there with all these gifts
The various ladies who stepped right into the middle and assisted with distribution of all the donated goods, fought with council to use the hall and stayed around to provide a shared conversation with fellow villagers who have all been impacted by the fire argued, "What did we do? It wasn't much. It's just what we do."
To the ladies who instantly went into action and helped co-ordinate emergency and long term accomodation for those who had lost their homes, they also answered that what they did wasn't worth thanking, "It's just what we do."
To Snax On Trax (I'm mentioning them!) - whose livelihood has been hit hard as so many events to which they provide great coffee and catering have been cancelled - didn't worry about that. They leaped into action and began feeding the host of RFS and other volunteers who were cleaning up the town. They didn't get to see their home much until after they had fed everyone and provided the very important coffee! But when we try and thank them we get the same answer, "Don't be silly, it's what we do."
Back in business!
I was getting pretty upset at all this humble service to the community but I realised that when so many people thanked us for the live posting and information we provided and the help we organised, we also brushed the thanks aside and replied, "It wasn't anything important. It's just what we do."
I can certainly confirm that the traditional notion of the quiet achiever and the can-do attitude that Australia is famous for has not been lost. It looks like it is instilled in us. In times of danger and tragedy, all of our past differences get placed into perspective.
Residents of Wingello, and neighbouring villages of Penrose and Tallong who have had the borderline fires and continual threats of worse, are really brothers in arms, facing and having faced a common enemy, Fire.
And helping each other get through this? It's just what we do.

12 January, 2020

Wingello Fire Recovery - It's more than physical

Everyone in Wingello has been affected by the fires that swept through on Saturday, 4 January 2020 and the tense standoff with the fires on Friday/Saturday 10/11 January.

Our Firies are still processing the intense firefights they fought in Balmoral and Buxton and then had to fight for the life of Wingello when we were struck with an almost instant firefront right at the edge of the village. In the following week we have had spot fires flaring up all over the place and been threatened by fires behind us and in neighbouring Penrose and Tallong. One can just imagine the stress this places on them facing life and death struggles in such a short time.

Then there are the Firies' families, knowing their loved one is putting himself or herself in danger to protect other people's lives, homes and property and then suddenly having to defend their own home. All with the possibility they may be injured or killed in the line of self selected duty.
The villagers who are only experienced with fire in varying degrees from none to theoretical and some with more, are all having to cope with the sudden attack on their homes. Whether they stood and defended their homes or left with the stress of wondering if their house would be standing when they returned, they all have varying degrees of unprocessed events to sort through.
Over the coming weeks we will experience a time of coming to terms with what we have gone through combined with the reminder that it is not over as the fires remain burning on our doorstep. We know they are being fought back while the weather is favourable, but it is still a tough time considering the underlying fuel loads and drought conditions.

As a community this means we need to share our experiences in person, shed tears almost at random as thoughts strike us of what happened and what could have happened. In our discussions, tears come to eyes as we see so much help being provided for little old Wingello from complete strangers. Sometimes the shock of a helping hands brings back memories and fears. The helping hand then helps more.
With all this stress and fears, often buried under very brave exteriors and smiles of relief, we are all prone to occasional flare ups of anger. In more reasonable times, the anger would be avoided because we realise we have known the person we are angry with for many years and that deserves a bit of understanding. When you have a relationship with someone for a long time, you are often able to realise that what seems to be a bad action may not have the reasons you instantly assume. On a normal day, the reaction would be a phonecall or word asking what they are doing. In these stressful time, the instant anger reaction can cause a cascade of returning emotions. Suddenly everyone is yelling over some thing which could have been solved more amicably.

I am asking everyone in Wingello to recognise the stresses that everyone is under at the moment and in coming weeks and months. If you feel the rise of an outburst or anger, take a deep breath. Consider the stress on the person you may be angry with and the stress you are under which tends to magnify issues.
Take the time to chat about what happened with fellow villagers who have shared our common battle. This can be over a coffee or a chance encounter in the park or while shopping. Pause and have a chat. It helps both parties process the losses, fears of potential loss and appreciate the fact that you and everyone else in Wingello is alive and the majority of the homes in the village remain standing.
Now is the time for us to come together, share our stories and provide understanding.

09 January, 2020

Wingello Fire Relief Fund

Flowering after the fires
Wingello was hit hard on Saturday Night, 4 January 2020. Fire raced through the forest behind us after being ignited from the huge Currowan Fire that had been threatening for weeks. The suddenness of the onslaught of fire took everyone by surprise. The combination of incredibly brave fire fighters and preparations by locals and good dose of fortune meant we were able to contain the loss to around 12 homes, but almost everyone suffered destroyed shed, gardens, cars and many personal property.
We are very grateful that we didn't lose all the houses on the Eastern side of the village.
As fellow villagers we have already taken care of everyone who have lost their houses finding accommodation, clothing, food and care to show them they are not alone.
The harder part is to come from the financial burden of recovery hits, handling the gap between what was insured and the actual costs.
The Wingello Village Association has established a special account to co-ordinate the financial relief efforts. The purpose of the fund is to cover the gap between insurance and actual costs. There are no administration costs as we will be doing the work ourselves with a committee of locals to oversee the account and expenditure. The Wingello Village Store is part of the oversight committee.
Donations can be by direct EFT transfer, or through the shop by credit card or cash.
The fund is to last for 12 months and at the end any remaining funds will be used for repairing the village, replanting appropriate trees and public amenities.
Any money donated will go directly to the benefit of Wingello and those affected by these fires. No commissions, costs or administration expenses will be deducted.
Wingello takes care of their own.

To donate EFT to:
BSB: 802-101
Acc: 100077285
Name: Wingello Fire Relief Fund

Donations are NOT tax deductible. We are not waiting for that paperwork and bureaucracy. We want to help people now. There are NO admin costs.

If you wish to use credit card or are from overseas, you can contribute via our GoFundMe page

Let us know who you are in the comments.

Wingello Fires - dogged defence

When we pulled back from our home to the shop at 10:30pm, our neighbours remained to defend our homes. They don't want to be named so I will just uses letters to describe them. Once we got to the shop I made a quick call to J, "We're out, defending the shop." "Great, good luck!" was his reply and off he went. Ten seconds at most.
P and J defended the front of the properties whilst S patrolled the back yards putting out embers that had flown across the roofs towards the back gardens. We had left our house and property as well as next door fully soaked,  our pumps remained on and each hose was marked with glow sticks so they could be seen. Later J told me, "We didn't need the glow sticks the night was very bright!"
As we were fighting the rain of red embers from the sky falling around us at the shop, this is what J and P faced:

This was a video taken as one of our fellow villagers was defending his place. As you can see he had his hose going continually. It is easy to say, "He saved his house". It is more incredible when you see what he saved it from.
Doesn't look like much now
This hedge row was on fire and the source of a ground based ember storm the same as what you can see in the video above. this hedge was too far from our house and direct neighbour for our hoses to reach. The neighbour further down, after initially planning to defend, had evacuated earlier in the day with their pump and hoses so J had no help there.
The humble Wheelie Bin. AKA Fire defence gear.
While P was defending here and as far as he could with the hoses, J had to fall back on the Wheelie Bin Defence. While J was using a water filled wheelie bin to put out each of the hedge trees, P was watering everything he could and S was filling the empty wheelie bin.
You can see here why it is so important to have a team of neighbours in your defence. Can you imagine what it would be like trying to do this on your own?
While embers were racing across the ground and in the sky, these three great neighbours were watering everything and watching for embers catching anywhere.
The RFS at one point came by and helped with a shed over the road that had caught fire but seeing that J and P were coping with the situation, had to leave as they had other houses up the road to save.
After many hours of fighting the fires had passed through and the height of the ember attack had settled. The result was a strip of houses saved. Other than al the area to the rear of the houses opposite us that were at the front of the fire - but not the houses - the main part of the homes on our side of the road burned was part of the further neighbour's overgrown hedge trees and J managed to get that out before it escaped and destroyed his house.
If you decide you cannot defend your house, you really should make sure your house is as fully prepared as possible. Clear away as much excess vegetation as possible, remove as many fuel sources and debris. Water everything down as much as possible. If you have fire fighting gear such as hoses or pumps, have it all laid out so your neighbours can quickly use it if needed. The lady further up didn't have hoses but had watered everything down and left as many buckets and containers of water all around the property. J told me this was very helpful when he had the chance to range further down the road to her house.
Our neighbour across the road had done this. We worked with him and knew where all the hoses, water sources and everything else was. Once the ember attack began, we went into his place and turned on all the sprinklers and other defences he had in place. That is how neighbours work together.
What you don't do is say you are going to stay, do nothing to prepare, then leave with your fire fighting gear. Fire does not respect neighbourhood fences. Saving the neighbour's house may save your own.
We tried hard to thank both our neighbours but like everyone in Wingello, they just shrugged it off and said, "It's what we do." We thanked them anyway.

08 January, 2020

Not on my Watch!

What we were sure was our last look at the shop
As we escaped Wingello at Midnight on 5 January we thought we had seen the last of our little Wingello Village Store.
But that was not to be.
The captain of the Wingello Rural Fire Brigade was in charge of the very intense, fast moving and dangerous fire currently attacking his home of Wingello.
He saw that we had retreated from the shop and was firm in his resolve to ensure that the village would live through this.
"Not on my watch!" he declared, and stationed one of the precious firetrucks in front of the shop and tasked his brave firefighters to "Save the shop!"

The team of Wingello 1
I need to provide some background of how the volunteer rural fire brigades work here in New South Wales. It is similar in all country areas throughout Australia. The funding and control of the volunteer fire services has changed over time but basically it is now run like this.
The NSW Rural Fire Service is responsible for the funding and oversight of each of the country towns and villages that have a volunteer fire brigade. Depending on each location's requirements and abilities they are allocated the appropriate fire trucks, equipment, uniforms and training all up to pretty rigorous Australian fire standards.
The brigade is then responsible for the maintenance of all that equipment and for the training of the volunteers. The rigorous training program covers many areas relating to fighting fires from the nature of how fires work, the science (and art) of fighting fires, controlling and defeating fire, how to defend homes and property, a very strong focus on safety in such a dangerous activity and more - all aimed at ensuring all volunteers can do the job not only adequately, but with professional skills.
Watching the fire approach through the treeline
The volunteers are not paid. This is not their full or part time job. This is what they do to give back to their local communities.
The call may go out and they will answer to respond to a house fire, motor vehicle accident, downed tree, fire report or any number of other emergency response requests. Although the primary purpose is fighting fires that threaten their homes, they are also used for many other emergency response tasks. Some units also have first response medical training, normally if the brigade is larger.

If a fire is reported and more assistance is needed, other brigades will be called in to assist. This is co-ordinated by various regional and state management teams, headed by whoever is mostly responsible for the location in which the fire occurs.
On the night of 5 January everyone was ready for a series of ember attacks from the Currowan fire. Wingello expected a busy night, but so was everyone else. There were no extra fire trucks to spare as they were needed everywhere else threatened by fire on this 42C (108F) day.
But when the word went out that Wingello was not just being hit by an ember attack but a full blown fire storm in the forest that was over 10km (7 miles) from the fire front and the village was threatened, fire trucks and their fire fighters began racing at full speed to assist. This wasn't a case of the local brigade holding the fire and the others coming in to help mop up. This was a case of Wingello is burning, everyone help!
The brigade in action
While locals were evacuating from the fire, these firefighters were charging in to defend a place many of them had never been to and some would not have even known about.

Our Wingello brigade had recently been assisting in the fight in Buxton and Balmoral, saving many houses from the terrible fires there. But this night was different. They weren't just defending "someone's" home, they were defending their homes. It wasn't the house on Park Street, it was the home of Michael and Helen, or the home of May or Ron. Each fire did not just threaten a house, it threatened a home of a person they knew as a fellow villager.

So this fight was personal. Allocating the firetruck to defend the shop with the command that it must be saved, "We will not lose the shop on my watch!", is what local brigades do when they defend their homes.

Whilst a normal shift may go for up to 12 hours and the crews are given rotations, this was Wingello. This was their home. They worked a 24 hour shift before someone realised why they were tired. But by then the worst was over.
The Bug has died.
The shop was saved and so many more houses were saved right at the doorsteps. Losing a dozen homes was a tragedy and the fire fighters felt incredibly saddened that they couldn't save the houses that burned, but the houses they did save! The deputy captain's property was burning and the nature of all these self sacrificing men and women was to fight the house most in need. They often would be reluctant to call someone to save their house as someone else was relying on them. But despite the blaze burning brightly through the rest of the property, his house was saved.

Often people call these brave men and women heroes, but like so many others that do this kind of work, they often shy away from the title. "We're just doing our job," they say modestly. That makes it very hard for us to provide the appropriate recognition when they often shrug off the thanks, but too bad.

Thank you to our men and women in our fire brigade. We know that your work and the time, preparation and training you have put in on every Wednesday night for many years, combined with the help from fellow villagers doing their part to save their homes meant Wingello was saved.
We may have lost a dozen homes, but we didn't lose 50 homes or more. The village lives and together we are rapidly rebuilding and helping those that have lost their houses and other property.

Thank you.

(PS Most of these photos were taken by brigade members in brief respites during the fight)

07 January, 2020

Our slice of the fight for Wingello

On Saturday 4 January 2020, the little village of Wingello (the secret Southern entrance to the Southern Highlands, NSW) was prepared for a threat of fire from the massive Currowan Fire lurking across the massive Shoalhaven Gorge.
It wasn't just smoke and embers!
Everyone was sure that the most likely occurrence would be for the Southerly change to hit the fire and blow embers across the gorge and start spot fires in the forest behind Wingello. An estimated 1/3 of the village remained to defend their homes and the two fire trucks of the local fire brigade were ready to do their best. The Forestry workers were ready to defend the Wingello State Forest.
I had sent out a stern message reminding all those that intended to defend to make sure they were properly ready. I think it was straight forward enough.
Tomorrow and Sunday will be at Extreme risk. The New Year's Eve 90 second change in the air from clear to thick brown smoke was our preview. When the change comes through tomorrow night it will be worse, even if the fire doesn't come.
Did you have trouble breathing? Leave.
Are you prepared if we get Ember attack? That means having a fuel powered pump, plenty of water, hoses, protective gear, sealed eye protection, breathing mask, good hat. If not, leave.
Do you intend staying on your own? If we get an ember attack, you may be putting out the one in front of you and more start behind you. If you succumb to smoke or trip, no-one will be able to help. Leave.
Do you have huge trees close to the house? If they catch you won't be able to save the house.
Is the way from your house to a safe spot covered by trees? (e.g. ANY of the roads in and out of Wingello). Then you have NO BACKUP. If you can't defend your house you won't get away. Leave.
We had a great gift in the dry run on New Year's Eve. That very rapid change from normal to armageddon was in 90 seconds. Make sure you and those with you are ready for what we experienced, but thicker smoke, louder noise, more wind, flames dropping from the sky.
Re-evaluate your fire plan.
The ember spotting and killing brigade.
We prepared pretty well. Over a number of meetings around the family dinner table and guided by Rudy, our father in law with his years of fire fighting experience, we developed a plan to defend against an ember attack at home and the shop. We had the right gear including goggles, smoke masks, gloves, wool/cotton clothes, lights and more. Hoses, water, buckets, generator and water pump were all ready.
Four of the older children (aged 28 down to 16) were tasked with defending and the shop and the rest of us at home. The 9 and 12 year old boys were told to go from window to window inside the house looking out for embers. We used hoses to water down everything in sight.

At 6:50pm we saw the huge cloud rising from the direction of the Currowan fire. We had read about pyrocumulus clouds where massive fires had the power to create their own weather patterns.
And looking at sky, there it was! That meant that the whole fire defence thing became a bit more chancey. As we watched it was moving and it looked like it was heading towards Bundanoon.
The huge puffy cloud

Just Add smoke
By 7:15 a huge smoke cloud ringed the bottom of the puffy cloud formation and it moved slowly and ominously towards us.
At 8:10 the sky was clear except for the coming cloud and then by 8:18 the smoke rolled in. By 8:25 it was pitch black! Smoke filled the air and you had to wear goggles and a mask or you would be blind and coughing in very short order.
James in his gear showing the smoke filled main street
We patrolled the outside of the house and shop and kept everything wet.
At 9:05 we were noticing lots of quite large burnt leaves and bark falling everywhere, but no embers yet. One advantage of it being very dark was that glowing embers were easier to spot. It was still quite hot (35C or 94F) so the Southerly hadn't brought much cooling.
Then at around 10:00 we saw fire trucks racing down Forest Road. Then another. Then by 10:07 we had a collection of 7 fire trucks lining our street."That's ominous," we thought, "Wingello only has 2 trucks."

This doesn't look good.

Red is worse than purple
At 10:11 the night sky turned purple and by 10:30 it was a very angry red. Accompanying the angry red sky was a very loud roaring sound like a freight train. That meant the forest was not just on fire, it was a roaring blaze, just out of sight.

About 10 minutes later we realised the fire was coming our way.
"Uh Oh," said Rudy (or words to that effect), "We can't fight that. We HAVE TO LEAVE."
That triggered our escape plan part 1 - retreat to the shop.
We quickly piled into our van, which had already been packed with one bag for each of us as well as backups for all our computer data. As I did a final look around at what I figured was for the last time, I was prompted to reach up and grab our family crucifix and put it in the van. We checked everyone was there and drove to the shop.  Rudy and our mother in law followed in their RV. Behind us the ember storm was raining red all around us and the forest fire was roaring.
As we stopped at the shop everyone rushed out and joined James and Peter in the back yard to defend against ember attack there. Ariel and Sebastian stopped multiple ember attacks at the neighbouring properties too.
I quickly called our neighbour to let him know we had left. He said "OK" and then went on fighting.
We found out on our return that our two neighbours fought non stop to put out embers and spot fires in our area of the street. Those two men were absolutely amazing!
Fire Trucks further up the road

10 minutes later, houses and trees exploding in fire.
At 11:00 we were doing our best to defend the shop and lots of fire trucks were in the main street.
By 11:25 fires were up the street and in trees all around.
Those flames rising higher than the shed meant we had to leave it to the experts

What I was sure was our last look at the shop
At 11:40 we saw flames rising behind the shed behind the shop rising taller than the shed. Knowing the shop was a 100 year wooden building with so many nooks and crannies meant it would never survive a direct fire threat.
So we made the decision to evacuate to the area in front of the fire shed. It was now up to the brave Wingello fire teams to defend the shop if they could.
At 11:44 I took what I considered to be the last photo of the shop I would ever see as we all bundled back in the van.
For a short while we waited in front of the fire shed out of the way and saw fires at the end of Garrett street which adjoins our home street. Explosions and raging fire on what was my street convinced us that we had lost the house for sure.
Leaving a burning village behind us.
We received word that the main road out of Wingello to the highway was safe, so we left at just before midnight and saw houses and trees burning up the road, flames along the railway and were sure we left behind a burned village. But we were amazingly happy as we were alive! We may have lost the shop and home, but all of us were OK.

Mittagong RSL was about 50km (30 miles) away and the Red Cross has established an evacuation centre. We walked into the centre and were greeted with a friendly smile from the Red Cross volunteer who we already knew from church.
"Why are you smiling," she asked, "You told me you have lost everything."
"We're just glad we're all alive!" I answered, 'That is just stuff. We can rebuild."
One our friends was with us and she was very upset as she left behind her partner who was fighting to save their home. The Red Cross quickly brought someone over to help comfort her. Meanwhile we registered as evacuees and waited while they did their bit.
At this point Ariel told us, "Well, if God wants us to stay, the shop will be able to be recovered. Then we'll know he wants us in Wingello." Always be careful making deals with God. Often he over delivers.
A few hours later we received word that our friend's partner was OK and their house was saved. "By the way, the shop's still ok," he mentioned.
"What!" we answered in astonishment. 'We believe you but can you take a photo?"
I'm fine. What were you worried about?
He very kindly sent us a photo. We laughed together and said we had something from which to rebuild. We could all cram into the rooms at the back of the shop while we rebuilt our home. It would be fine.
After our return, we spoke with the captain of our fire brigade and asked him about the shop. He said, "I stationed a truck in front of the shop all night. We weren't going to lose the shop on my watch!"
I will tell more about what the fire brigade did in another post, but that is why we are so proud of our firies. It is because they are ours. Wingello people are the volunteers and they fight to defend the homes of all Wingello. They are not just defending random houses, they defend the homes of those they know and love and take any losses very personally. It is hard not to be proud of these brave men and women that go into danger as we had to leave.
Over achieving on the home saving front -
the canvas covered Yurt unharmed
We ended up discovering the shop was saved without a singe and our home was also saved. Even the Mongolian Yurt we had in the back yard, which is covered in canvas didn't have a singe. It's not so white now and we had drenched it with water before we left, but it and everything else was all as we had left it.
"Fine," said Ariel, "We're meant to be in Wingello."

02 January, 2020

Wingello - Situation Summary 1 January 2020

In order to help explain the current situation we are facing, I needed a longer post to provide a briefing for family and friends both in Australia and overseas. This is an overview so there is not much point observing I have a date or number slightly out. The overall story of Wingello presented here is based on all that I have read and discussed with locals over the last 20 years.


Wingello is a small village half way between Sydney and Canberra in the Southern Highlands of NSW. That is all you will get from the local shire's tourism information, responsible for directing visitors to our area. We are not one of the larger or more popular destinations and so are mostly left alone.
The Wikipedia entry is reasonably accurate.
Wingello was originally settled about 150 years ago with convict labour and mainly relied on timber and the railways for local work. For quite a while up until 1965 it also had a very busy fruit growing business with orchards, packing plants and more. The current population is around 400 to 500 and is considered a "micro township" in many planning departments.
A view of the Wingello Village Store
There is one General store and post office which we have run for almost 11 years. All mail comes to the store and villagers need to pop in and collect their mail. This makes the whole mail system very personal where you pop in and often before you can ask we are already getting your mail as we know who you are. The shop is also a central point where locals and visitors gather for a cup of coffee, food and companionship, with a number of impromptu groups gathering for scrabble or just social get togethers regularly. Life is lived at a country pace and there is enough room in the store so patrons can just hang around as long as they wish (until closing time).
We are home to a marvellous slice of Australian life. Villagers are from all walks of life, beliefs, social backgrounds, incomes and more. Typically you can live your way in Wingello so long as you let everyone else do the same and it is a great place to be. We have found the primary strength of Wingello is the truly diverse background of its residents, those that consider Wingello home and are willing to make their mark in ways big and small that makes Wingello their place. This can be as small as maintaining their garden or talking with their neighbour, up to volunteering in the fire brigade, school or village organisations or just being Santa Claus for one time. Each little bit by each villager adds to what makes Wingello great in our eyes.

Wingello Fire History:

The name "Wingello" means "The Burning Place" (or equivalent) in aboriginal. This is a very appropriate name considering in 1939 and 1965 over half of the village was destroyed by bush fire.
Like all country towns and villages we have our own fire brigade. This is a volunteer organisation with all the vehicles, equipment and protective gear provided by the State based government organisation - NSW Rural Fire Service. The RFS provides all equipment up to pretty rigid Australian Safety Standards. Local brigades often then do their own fund raising to obtain higher graded or supplementary gear they consider would help them fight fires and save lives better. The local "Firies" are not only responsible for fighting fires, but also assisting in Motor Vehicle Accidents and other emergency services in our local area.
In 1998 bush fires threatened the town. Deputy Fire Captain David Quinlivan died when the water tanker he was driving was overrun by fire. Turning the tanker around to bear the brunt of the flames, David saved the lives of his colleagues but lost his own life. During the blaze seven of David's colleagues suffered serious injuries.
This led to a change in the members of the brigade and a much higher focus on regular training. The current brigade is very well trained and has a lot of fire fighting and accident experience.
Traditionally, devastating fires have always hit Wingello from the west, backed by a hot North Westerly wind pushing flames and embers at incredible speeds, travelling the distance from the highway 7 km (5 miles) away in less than 10 minutes. Pretty much all our defences and plans are based on that basis. If a fire appears South of us, it is not a concern as the fire will only be pushed our way by a Southerly wind which is cold and moist which normally puts the fire out. The Southerly winds are normally great events where a hot day of 40C (104F) pops down to 20C (68F) in about 20 minutes with lovely cooling fog quickly rolling in.
The Currowan fire from our side of the gorge
about an hour before the wind change.

About Australian Bush fires:

The majority of Australian native trees are designed to propagate after fire. Eucalyptus (gum) trees drop branches, twigs and dry leaves all year creating lovely kindling all around. In times of drought, they save themselves by dropping excess branches and massive limbs to keep the core still alive with available water. That is why many gum trees are known as "widow makers" due to men resting under one on a hot summer day and not waking after a massive limb drops on them.
When we have a drought, Australia really makes the word mean something. For as long as we have records - and that includes verbal history of the aborigines - Australia has always been a place of flood, drought, fire and great natural beauty. We have had drought and bushfires throughout written history here.
Every year we don't have a fire, the amount of fuel (kindling created by gum trees and undergrowth) increases, making the next fire that much more intense. Traditionally this has been managed by controlled burning so that the fires are less severe, and flora and fauna have better chances to survive and regrow. The fire authorities have been warning us to expect a really bad fire season for at least five years. It hasn't happened so all the fuel loads have built up to disastrous levels.
Now add in a rather severe drought. In Wingello we normally get rain of around 1,000mm (40 inches) a year. This is enough to support every one's water needs via rainfall. We do not have "town" water - all our water is supplied by rainfall, hitting our roof and flowing into our drinking water tanks.
2017 and 2018 had rain around 700mm (28 inches). Last year (2019) we only had 400mm (16 inches). Other places in our state of New South Wales (NSW) have had even worse rain levels.
This has meant soil moisture levels at tragically low levels.
Throughout NSW and most of Australia, much of our forest areas are in hilly and almost inaccessible country. Over the last five years these areas have been building up for a major fire. Imagine surrounding your house with specially designed kindling which only takes a spark to turn into a raging inferno. Welcome to the start of this year's fire season.

The current situation.

In September, early in our traditional fire season, fires started during in North NSW and Queensland. Lightning was the cause of many of the early fires. Since then arsonists - either malicious or oblivious - have caused many more of the fires. They are STILL burning today.
Many more fires have started since then. Some have been able to be contained and stopped, but many CANNOT be stopped as the fuel levels and moisture content in the soil makes the fire IMPOSSIBLE to stop. All fire fighters can do is their best to contain damage to people, homes and property.
The total area now burned since September is an area greater than the size of Belgium. The 2019 California fires burnt around 215,000 acres. In NSW we have burned around 21,000,000 acres and we're not finished yet.

Danger to Wingello

Click to make the picture bigger
For the last few months we have been monitoring the fire situation through the app FiresNearMe. This shows the status of all the fires in NSW and how much has been burned. Have a look and see the extent of CURRENT fires. Once a fire is out it is no longer displayed. The blackened areas represent the area the fire has covered. Typically the edges are still active, but spot fires often continue within the blackened centres.
This has worked really well until the last few weeks when it has become overloaded with so many fires raging out of control and so many people now affected. To the South West of us a small fire began and we recognised that it was South so wouldn't be a problem. Then it grew and on one day doubled in size. Suddenly we became more concerned. Between it - the "Currowan" fire - and us is the Shoalhaven Gorge. This normally should keep it from us.
But this is a time of new fire lessons for everyone. The normally cold and moist Southerly winds were only cooler, but dry. It was hitting the hot air of the fire and pushing it along, sending embers (burning leaves, twigs and small branches) kilometres ahead of the fire and spreading it closer to us.
Then on New Year's Eve the weather dropped from the mid 30's (90F) as the Southerly hit. In 90 seconds, the air went from a lovey Summer blue to grey and then red mud brown smoke. Breathing was difficult and eyes staring stinging from the smoke.
Rudy, a very experienced fire fighter, helping us water down
nearby combustibles before a potential ember attack.
This is at 4pm in Summer. Note how dark it is.
We thought we were ready - and in many ways we were - but the reality was much stronger than our mental preparations had expected. We have read all the literature and information provided by the RFS, listened to the verbal instructions and advice of experienced fire fighters and locals and knew mentally what to expect. But even so, the reality was a powerful hit. And this was only a prelude. We didn't get the ember attack and the fires were still over 10km on the other side of the gorge.
Our preparations included:
  • Ensuring all our water tanks are full
  • Fuel operated high pressure water pump attached to multiple hoses and the water tank. No point relying on power which is the first thing to go when power lines get cut from dropped branches or trees or poles are burnet.
  • Protective gear of smoke mask, goggles, helmet, cotton or wool clothing covering all skin, gloves and so on.
  • All combustible material removed from near the house and area to be defended.
  • Buckets and bath tubs filled with water to help put out embers.

But the sudden onslaught of smoke and wind meant breathing was difficult and eyes started to stream. It was worse than cutting onions!
The aim is to defend against Ember Attack. We do not have any tree lines in range of us to threaten a wall of flame so we will be defending our home and the store. if we had large trees in range we would be leaving. Defending a burning wall of trees in these conditions is almost impossible.
With so many fire attacks on towns and villages across NSW, Wingello and our neighbouring villages of Penrose and Tallong are pretty much on our own with each village's local brigades and the NSW Forestry firefighters all we have to defend against this fire. This same fire is already attacking and destroying homes and towns on its Eastern and Southern edges affecting many more people than our little home.

What now?

The Wingello Village Store defenders
We are upgrading our protective gear and getting ready for the next danger day, Saturday 4 Jan. The temperatures are expected to rise to 42C (108F) and then once the Southerly hits, drop to 26C (78F). The heat will make the fire hotter and spread on all sides, then if the wind is strong enough, it will pick up burning leaves, twigs and even branches and send them flying across the gorge into the State forest South of us, potentially starting spot fires. The fire brigade and forestry fire fighters have bulldozed through access tracks that will allow them to have a safer forward fighting position and hopefully give them the ability and reach to stomp on spot fires before they catch. But as mentioned, the dry nature of the soil, undergrowth and trees makes this a difficult fight.

To all our friends and family in Australia and overseas, your prayers do make a difference. "The prayer of a just man avails much" [James 5:16] 

01 January, 2020

Wingello Village News January 2020

The Wingello Village News is here for January 2020.
See this month's  Wingello Village News.
This is the 131st monthly newsletter.

What's happening this month:
  • The approaching fires are the over-riding concern of Wingello - an Aboriginal word meaning "The Burning Place"
  • How does the Fire Brigade get funded?
  • A great Wingello Christmas Santa visit and Community Carols.