When there is smoke, how close is the fire

How close is it: Fire in the bushland next to Dees Road, Belbora, east of Gloucester on Tuesday, September 26. Photo: Dave Keen
How close is it: Fire in the bushland next to Dees Road, Belbora, east of Gloucester on Tuesday, September 26. Photo: Dave Keen

It's hard to understand the force of fire unless you’re in the middle of a fire zone.

On Saturday evening, September 23, as the sun sunk below the horizon it gave way to the distinct glow of a nearby fire.

Due to the terrain in the area of Belbora, east of Gloucester, where the fire was brewing, it’s difficult to determine exactly how close the fire is.

With our house on top of the hill, we could see the fire was heading into the gully toward our neighbour.

My husband made a quick call to see if he was okay.

Andy knew there was a fire, but he couldn’t see it coming. 

By 4am Sunday morning, Andy awoke to 25 metres flames towering toward a property across from him on Dees Road, so he called triple zero.

When my husband and I bought our rural property, we knew we were building a house in high fire danger area; what we didn’t know, was what to do if fire came.

A lot of research went into constructing the house out of the correct materials; steel frame, corrugated iron walls and roof and shatter proof, thickened glass for all the windows.

Before we built, we had the local Rural Fire Service (RFS) survey the property for the best building location and an environmental planner from Forster mark the trees we could keep and the ones that we could cut down. Being in a koala habitat, it was a requirement of the former Greater Taree City Council for us to keep as many trees as we could without putting the house in danger; a requirement we agree with, as we bought the property as a bush block and wanted to keep as much as we could.

The RFS talked to us about asset protection, the area around the house that needed to be completely cleared and partly cleared based on the elevation of the house site and our risk of fire.

Then we needed to make a plan; a fire safety plan, of what we would do in case of fire.

With all this done, we were pretty sure we were ready, but it doesn’t completely remove the fear.

Heading into this weekend, when the fire began, we knew we were staring down a bad bush fire season and it had been many years since the dense bushland that surrounds us had burnt.

An eerie glow: The lines of fire have a strange beauty at night on Dees Road, Belbora, east of Gloucester. Photo: Anne Keen

An eerie glow: The lines of fire have a strange beauty at night on Dees Road, Belbora, east of Gloucester. Photo: Anne Keen

On this Saturday night, we spent a lot of time watching the fire and little time sleeping, as the wind began to pick up speed.

When Sunday morning rolled around, the fire trucks, airplanes and helicopters began coming in force.

Not knowing exactly what to do, I had called the Taree RFS office on Saturday night as the Fires Near Me website wasn’t keeping up to date with what was happening at our place. I was told that if the fire got too close to my house for my comfort level, that I was to call triple zero.

So we put of fire survival plan into action and began to pack up things that couldn’t be replaced, like old photographs, portable hard drives, jewelry and a ‘go bag’ with a few days worth of clothes.

And now we wait. 

Sunday morning, when the plane flew over our house, we knew things were getting serious. 

Andy was okay, we was helping the RFS by showing them where the structures where on the many properties along Dees Road and keeping them hydrated with his personal stash of soft drink.

Related story: Very high fire danger for the Mid Coast

The RFS had already saved a couple structures from the towering flames, as the fire ripped across unmaintained grassy farmland, backed by the strengthening winds. Fire crews were working hard to keep the fire contained to the one side of Dees Road, because if it crossed it would have free rein in the dense bush on the other side.

As evening fell, the fires had dimmed and things were looking positive until the call came through to the fire trucks alerting them to an incoming high wind warning.

I’m not even sure how the winds could get any stronger than it had already, but it did and the fire jumped the road.

Crews worked to keep Andy’s place and the other buildings near him safe. All they could do was protect assets and let the rest burn.

As a resident, I know that it needs to burn and now that it had moved into the bushland, it was mainly burning the fuel on the floor, so it was a slow burn. The wind keeps changing direction and the fire is creeping closer and closer to our house, despite the RFS continually dumping water on it and bulldozing containment lines.