Regular readers of this blog will know that during this past Australian summer Tasmania has had many bushfires. In January after a big storm hit, there were lightning strikes all over the place and fires started. They were hard to control as many started in inaccessible forests and before long populated areas were under threat.
A haze of smoke hung over our valley for weeks and as the fires spread the air quality deteriorated. Many people left their homes even if they were not in the at-risk areas because of the difficulty in breathing.
I went away when it seemed that the fires were coming too close to Geeveston but the haze was widespread because there were other fires burning too so there was nowhere to get away from it really. I read that the smoke even reached New Zealand.
It is very frightening to think of what might have happened as the fires encircled Geeveston. A few homes were lost but no lives which is the important thing. Now the fires are finally under control and we are all recovering and trying to get back to normal.
I have included a YouTube video of some scenes from the fires.
It’s been about six weeks since the bushfires that threaten the Huon Valley began. Although we are no longer at crisis point the fires are still burning and with a hot weekend ahead there are statewide fire bans and continued warnings to be mindful that the situation could change rapidly.
Things are getting back to normal in the valley, but normal now includes the daily parade of fire vehicles that I see heading south as I wait for my ride to the Op Shop in the mornings. We’ve become used to seeing the helicopters that fly overhead. They are taking infrared pictures to check for hotspots. We also see the waterbombing helicopters and aircraft flying over the valley every day. The helicopters have a landing site near the school so we hear them coming and going from the shop. Yesterday we heard a few explosions as fallen trees which were too dangerous to remove manually were blown up.
The ground crews work hard digging out the hotspots with machinery or by hand. The fires generated such heat that the soil is still hot in the places that were burned. This is a good reminder of why it’s important to be sure a campfire or rubbish fire is really out. I have enlarged a bit of the TFS webpage information as I thought that it might be of interest to see what they do. The PFS is the Parks and Wildlife Service and the STT is Sustainable Timbers Tasmania, the forestry service they have their own firefighting units.
Firefighters continue to extinguish numerous active fire edges today utilising vehicle based teams, remote area teams inserted by helicopters, and walk-in teams. Crews are supported by aircraft providing targeted water drops to mop up hot areas.
TFS, PWS, STT and supporting agencies will aim to contain and extinguish the fires with the highest priority being Riveaux Road to limit impacts on private property, community and commercial assets, community safety and natural, cultural & heritage values, especially the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
Tasmanians are being asked to reconsider using fire as the state moves into several days of bad fire weather. A total fire ban has been declared for all southern municipalities on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd March.
Fire agencies and communities have already experienced a very trying bushfire season, and while it may seem that conditions have abated and life is back to normal, the community needs to be aware that we are still battling serious bushfires.
Residents are reminded to remain vigilant and continue to monitor the situation as the current situation may change as warmer weather is forecast.
Areas impacted by fire pose a number of risks and hazards to the public and fire crews. There are still a number of roads closed, and the public must adhere to road closure signage and refrain from entering these areas. Roads impacted by fire remain a significant risk of fallen trees or trees that have potential to fall without notice. Roads may be damaged, have damage to local bridges, and normal roadside warning signs damaged or destroyed. Please slow down and drive to the conditions as emergency service vehicles continue to use these roads.
Apart from the still present risk of fires, our focus is now on recovery. A government services hub has been set up locally to advise people who have lost income due to the fires or have damaged property. People are trying to get back into their normal routines but more than one person I have spoken with has said that it is difficult to do that while the fires are still burning.
Even animals are affected. I see posts on Facebook regarding lost and found pets and for the first few days that I was back at the Op Shop Cindy would howl when I left and I’d hear her howling when I arrived home. Thankfully she has settled down now and instead of being upset, she runs to greet me with her ball when I get home.
Several events are being set up to promote local businesses. January and February are usually our best months for tourism and many operators rely on that money to get through the quieter winter months. A key attraction, The Tahune Airwalk will be out of action for some months while facilities are repaired or replaced.
The other thing that everyone locally is keen to do is to thank the fire service employees and volunteers for the amazing job they have done and are still doing. Fundraisers are being arranged to support the various brigades with new equipment. The firefighters themselves are not allowed to accept money from the public but at least we can let them know how grateful we are for what they do and that they are all heroes.
The fires are still burning. We had three cooler days which allowed the firefighters to get some back burning done but on Sunday I saw that Geeveston was once again on emergency alert. I spent an anxious afternoon and evening listening to the radio and checking Facebook posts as the fire came close to the southern end of Geeveston and threatened communities further south. Sadly several houses were lost that day but thankfully nobody was killed or injured. It has been over three weeks now that these fires in the Huon Valley and other parts of Tasmania have been burning.
I was in Huonville to apply for an emergency assistance grant which the government had made available to people who had been forced to leave their homes because of the fires or who had been unable to work because their place of work was in the fire zone.
The local Scout and Guide Hall was being used to process claims. I arrived at about 2:20pm to find a long, long, line zigzagging across the room. It took me a full two hours to be processed and paid. It was quite a weird experience and made me think about people who have been permanently displaced from their homes and have to deal with this sort of situation all the time.
The government workers running the operation were doing a great job though, they had a team of maybe a dozen workers processing information before sending us off with our paperwork to join another line to collect prepaid debit cards. Everyone was on the whole, patient and good-natured even though it was a warm afternoon. Security staff walked around distributing bottles of water. The staff was helpful and friendly still smiling after a full day of filling out forms.
Outside the building, Naomi was patiently waiting for me to finish. It turned out that one of the security people was someone she knew from Oatlands, that stuff happens all the time in Tasmania. She talked to people coming and going, patted dogs and talked to a little kid who claimed to be lost. He wasn’t, his dad was nearby and he was just looking for some attention I think.
About an hour after I arrived the doors were closed and people arriving were told that they would have to come back tomorrow as it would take till after 6pm to process the people already there. Naomi said that most people took this news quite well although one man became quite angry about it. The financial assistance centre was set up last week and has been open every day. I had not been able to get there sooner as I am staying some distance away which is why Naomi offered to take me.
After that, we drove to my house. It was a strange feeling driving into a bushfire zone. The smoke haze was not too bad and we had good visibility but the whole area smelled of burnt wood.
I knew that my house had not been in the fire zone as a friend had driven past it the other day but it was a huge relief to find everything inside just as I left it. Even most of my plants were still surviving.
Once we had watered the plants, checked that lights and power were still working and I had grabbed a few things I wanted we left. I don’t plan to return home just yet. I want to but the fires are still acting erratically and if I go back now and there is another emergency I would have to find someone to get me out. It’s just too stressful so I will wait until things are a bit safer.
However, it was good to see my home again and I hope it won’t be too long before I can go back.
A lot has happened since I wrote my update yesterday. On Sunday afternoon the winds picked up and in the early evening, the area where I was staying with friends was put on emergency alert as well.
It was unpleasantly smoky. My friends decided that we should go somewhere safer for the night. We piled into two vehicles with three dogs, Polly in her carrier, suitcases, and a heap of blankets and pillows and drove down to the foreshore at Franklin. It was not as windy or as smoky there and we had some fish and chips from a local shop before settling in for the night.
I have to say it was not the pleasantest night I’ve experienced. Cindy has been very upset and clingy since we left home. If she is not with me she cries. Each of us settled on a seat with a dog beside us and tried to sleep a bit. It was windy in the night and Cindy was restless. I had to get up once and get her some water but after that, she went to sleep.
At dawn, I got up to give her some fresh air, also Polly who was squeezed into the back with the luggage. She didn’t sound too happy and as I didn’t dare take her out of her cage I put the back up so she could at least get some fresh air. Under other circumstances, I would have been happy to be on the river at dawn as all the ducks woke up and a couple of swans drifted by with a flotilla of cygnets. My camera was buried somewhere in the car and my phone battery almost dead so no pictures I’m afraid.
From what we could find out the fire situation was no better but my friends decided to go back to their house for a few forgotten items. It was even smokier and I was frankly not that happy about returning to the house. As we discussed various accommodation options available to us I said that I would call my friends Matt and Ally to see if I could go to their place. They had offered to have me earlier in the week but I wasn’t able to get a ride out of Geeveston then.
I was very relieved that they were happy to come all the way to Huonville to fetch me and my friends drove me there about an hour later. I was very relieved to be on my way but worried about my friends who were talking about staying on at their home. I was very relieved when I sent them a message later in the day to hear that they had left to stay with a friend outside the Huon Valley.
This evening the situation in the Huon is still very bad. Geeveston was evacuated this afternoon and later police door-knocked in Port Huon to tell people to leave. At this stage, I don’t know if I will have a house to go home to but I’m safe, my pets are safe and all my friends made it to safer places even though I feel some of them left it too long to go. It’s also good to know that up to this point no lives have been lost. Let’s hope it stays that way.
As I have no new photos to share here are some favourite photos of Geeveston, Port Huon and Franklin.
Those of you who have read my last couple of posts may be wondering how things are going down here in Geeveston.
Since I last wrote the bushfires have increased in size and number dramatically. As I write this just one fire, on the central plateau in the middle of the state has over 40,000 hectares burning. If you want to try and visualise that, a standard sportsfield is 1 hectare. The three major areas of the fires are the west coast, central plateau and down here in the southwest. On Friday that fire moved perilously close to Geeveston. Quite a lot of my local friends who live on properties on the outskirts of town elected to leave for safer places. An evacuation centre has been set up in Huonville and some people have gone there. Others are staying with friends or family elsewhere. The town has not been evacuated but the Tasmanian Fire Service (TFS) said that the conditions were so severe that if homes were threatened they would not be defendable in the conditions we had. The townships of Geeveston, Port Huon, Castle Forbes Bay, and Waterloo were put on Emergency status.
My house is on the Port Huon side of Geeveston and not directly in the path of the fires but there was considerable danger from embers blown ahead of the main fires. It’s a weatherboard house and there is no way that I would be physically fit enough to defend it and of course, I don’t have a car.
Yesterday morning some friends who live in Franklin came and collected me, Cindy and Polly and we are staying with them until the situation settles down. Last night things were a little calmer and the fire alert for Geeveston had been downgraded to watch and act status. However, despite some showers overnight the weather is still hazardous. As I was writing this we noticed that the smoke looked thicker and we heard on the radio that the fire had changed directions and was heading towards the townships of Glen Huon, Judbury and Lonnavale. Those towns are now on Emergency status.
Even here at Franklin which is 10km from Geeveston, it is quite smoky and bits of burned leaves and bark have been falling. Here is a sample of what has been dropping on my friends’ garden. We are fine but the subject of “If we had to leave, what would you take?” is under discussion.
You may have seen my post from earlier in the week about the bushfires burning around the state. They are all still burning and today, Friday is going to be very dangerous weather, hot, windy and the chance of lightning strikes. The main danger in such weather is embers being carried ahead of the main fires and starting new ones. The fire service says that in these conditions homes may not be defendable.
Naturally, I’ve been a bit distracted by all this and can’t really concentrate on writing. This morning I will probably be taking the pets and relocating to friends in Hobart for a day or so. If I am not able to update you I will ask Naomi to post something so you all know I am OK.
There are a lot of bushfires around Tasmania at present. It’s been dry and vegetation fires are common in summer.
Last week we had a huge thunderstorm and many fires were started by lightning strikes. Many are in remote areas of forest and firefighters both local and visiting ones from interstate and from New Zealand have been doing their best to control them.
Over the last couple of days it’s been hot and windy and two fires, in particular, have become more serious, one of them is in an area called Tahune which a forest area and is 30 kilometres or so from Geeveston. We have been getting a lot of smoke and today ash falling over the town.
This afternoon some friends who live up the Arve Road which leads to the Tahune Airwalk decided to leave, mainly because the air quality is so bad. This is how the sky looked at my place at around 4pm. I took this from inside.
I’ve been living here for 16 years now and I can say that without a doubt these are the worst conditions that I have seen around here.
Hot weather is forecast for most of this week so I don’t see this improving soon.
I am fine. My house is on the Hobart side of town, it’s just unpleasant and a bit scary.