It was the end of another long day as we climbed the staircase to bed, feet dragging, bodies heavy from exhaustion. As we rolled back the blankets, another fire could be seen burning on top of the mountain, on the other side of the valley. Fires are not uncommon this time of year, as the dry season has turned all of the wild grass to brown, and the July winds adding fuel to the wild fires like fresh gasoline. I wasn’t surprised to see the soft red glow across the valley, only tromping a mere “another fire…” comment as I slipped my tired body under the covers and turned off the light.
It was still early in the morning when the strong winds outside began to disturb my sleep. I thought of the clothes still hanging on the outside line, and how my mission for the morning would be gathering all of the stray pieces scattered on the lawn. The wind did not settle, and soon was consumed by a roaring sound that woke george from his sleep. I felt him sneak from the bed, heading to his truck I was sure, to remove his work bag from the rain. I was expecting him to sleep walk out the door and hear his footsteps on the stairs, but he had stopped by the side of the bed. It wasn’t until I heard his voice begin to speak that I was concerned. “ Hey babe… we have a fire.” I slowly opened my eyes to inquire, but didn’t need to respond. Our room was glowing bright florescent red.
I jumped from bed, trying to find something to throw on nearby. We ran down the stairs, still fitting our arms into our t-shirts and skidding into our shoes. As I stood in our driveway, with one shoe still in my hand, I was motionlessly staring at the wall of flames at the top of our driveway. Six feet high and stretching the length of the mountain top, we could feel the warmth on our faces, the smoke in our lungs, and glow was illuminating the entire mountain despite the early hours of morning. I was snapped out of my shock when George ran passed by me to grab the hose. My first instinct was to call 999 the emergency services, but George giggled at the suggestion, he figured it would be a lost cause, and if they did show up it would be after tea time. I was a little flabbergasted by this, as I watched the fire creep up the mountain towards our neighbors houses. “ Should we go wake up the neighbors?” I shout as I run behind him, unsure of where or how I can help. “ I’m sure they already know…” he says casually, “they have been dealing with this for years.” I’m thinking “WHAT?! if they know, why did know one of them wake us?? Where are they?”. I’m still running behind George, throwing out ideas and trying to make an action plan- but the fire is getting closer and I slowly begin to realize we are on our own, and I am about to get a crash course in fire fighting.
The fire is swiftly coming down the mountain, closer and closer to our gate. George is standing along the fence, trying desperately to wet the grass with our pitiful display of water pressure. I’m watching, concerned… and helpless. I run to the house for my phone, calling and texting anyone I think would come to assist at 5 am. I am left wanting as the fire reaches the gate, and I see George winning the fight against the fire on his right, but then is lost behind a wall of flames as our guava tree by the gate becomes engulfed. I drop my phone and run towards him screaming, “behind you! Behind you!” The fire is so loud, he can’t hear me until I am beating the flames down with a dead branch I find nearby.
Instinct takes over now, and I refuse to let this fire come into our yard. We have worked so hard the last month planting, and grooming our lawn to let this fire turn our handwork to ash. I pick up my branch and go outside the gate, beating the fire down to size. I’m impressed as I smother the last bit of flame on this small stretch of fence. It is short lived as another gust of wind can be heard rustling in the distance, and as it barrels towards us, the flames grow immensely. I see George in the corner of the yard, trying to keep the fires away as it begins to head for the valley in front of our house.
The sun is starting to come up now, and the smoke passing us. For the first time, I can see the fire burning down our mountain side, like a river, and across the valley the mountains I saw last night are still burning bright. It looks like lava as it winds down the mountain, skipping over the valley and beginning again at our gate. It must of jumped during the night, and at that moment I am amazed, and terrified of fire.
I Skid down the steep hill at the Northwest corner of our yard, beating the fire as I go. We manage to get it under control, and keep it on the outside of the fence, after it has burned about 2 meters into our yard. My job is to now beat any fire that sneaks in, behind the main flames, while George wets the grass in front. I am beyond grateful as I watch it engulf everything in it’s path that we have just had our grass cut the week before. The wild grass that was here before would have been impossible to keep under control, let alone walk through. Everything happens for a reason.
There are moments of calm and panic throughout the next few hours as we watch the fire skim the mountain side. When it looks like it’s under control, we sigh a heavy relief and then dread the sound of the wind gusting in the distance which inevitably sends the flames shooting over us, and the path of destruction growing faster than we can keep up.
We are worried as it gets closer to the house, where the fence is closest, and the wooden deck stands taunting the flames. There is a steep hill under the deck, and at the bottom a patch of wild bush and trees. As I watch the trees go up in smoke and wild flames, and hear the loud roar as the flames take entire, full grown trees to the ground in a matter of seconds, I am concerned. If the bush catches a-lite, we are finished. By some act of God, the flames pass this area with little excitement, the winds had subsided for the longest pause of time all morning. And george was vigilant about keeping this patch watered.
After 2 hours, the fire has finally passed the house, and has moved into the back yard. We are exhausted, and it is catching up with us now. We had been so focused on keeping the fire from the house, that after the first 3 meters away from the house, we stopped trying to contain it and just let it burn. We stood by the clothesline and watched out backyard go up in flames. I thought the fire would continue its Easterly course, but it suddenly caught the leaves of a palm tree in the neighbors yard, and sent the fire racing up the hill.
We jumped in the car and drove up the road, making sure our neighbors were awake and aware as we drove. It had taken over 2 hours to watch the fire go down the hill along side of our house, and 5 minutes for it to spread up the hill. We spent 30 minutes by our neighbors at the top of the hill, helping the fire pass. It didn’t take much help, the fire seemed to be in a hurry.
On the drive back to the house, the ground smoked and the ash was still flying through the air. We watched the fire spread through the valley, and above us on the mountain ridge, as we drank a much earned cup of coffee. It was 9am by the time we were in the clear, over 4 hours battling the flames. We laughed at our luck, and were actually grateful it was us who were here as opposed to the previous owner, as it was the morning of his wedding. When we were sure the winds wouldn’t change, and the fire had set another course, we showered, dressed with 2 hours to spare before we arrived at the church for a beautiful wedding.