20 Jun 2014

the big burn off

 
Almost 18 months on, and one of the final reminders of the January 2013 bushfires is gone. Fittingy, it has been burnt.

The large pile of fire-damaged trees, shrubs and other vegetation from mum and dad’s garden and orchard stretched across the bottom of my parents’ block. And by large, I mean roughly 45 metres long, 5 high and wide (and 900 cubic metres, dad calculated; the equivalent of 90 big blue tip trucks). The pile was a shape-shifter: it grew longer over those 18 months as progressively more trees were cut down and bushes pulled out by dad, mum, professional tree cutters, me, and even the occasional volunteer group, then ferried down the back in dad’s truck or ride-on mower pulling a trailer; even wheelbarrows. But it also shrank, as branches settled, or large limbs weighted down lighter, leafier masses. But it was always impressive, and became a familiar part of mum and dad’s landscape.

Over time, the pile also accepted non-bushfire stuff: rose prunings, agapanthus that survived the fire but became dominant weeds in the barren aftermath; and even my unwanted bay and apple trees.
 
Finally the local firies came to take care of the pile — it was always going to be too large for dad to be responsible for; we didn’t want to take any risks. I told my parents I wanted to be there to witness this strange milestone; after all, I had helped them in the months immediately after the fire, clearing their garden. I had warned my manager that if the firies said ‘now!’, I’d be leaving work. You may not be able to understand that, and there is no logic in it beyond wishing to watch this, the end of one of life’s chapters.
 
So one crisp, clear and fairly still Saturday afternoon, it began. Three firies from the local volunteer brigade and a couple of trucks trundled down the driveway. There is something about fire trucks that brings out the kid in us all (or maybe just me). Look mum, a fire engine — in our driveway! Mum, dad and I, and a couple of neighbours — some hovering near the fenceline, others closer, brandishing a bag of celebratory marshmallows. The joke of course being that you’d need a 20 foot stick for toasting them, so big would the fire be.
 
What I remember: the intense heat in the cool autumn air, drying my skin. The hypnotic, sparkling orange flames licking the blue sky; the falling ash. The crackle, the roaring whoosh as the flames created their own energy. Mum saying solemnly, I don’t like that sound. The men adopting that wide-legged stance, appraising what was happening; sharing a laugh but also tending the flames with their metal rakes and eagle eyes. One of the firies murmuring approvingly of their controlled work, that’s a beautiful burn. Four little field mice running helter-skelter from the flames, and us all giving a cheer. Boomer Bay is experiencing something of mini-mice plague at the moment, so the only good rodent it would seem is a burnt one. These were the ones that got away.
 
The embers glowed in the dark, safely, for hours. We have bagged up some of the ash (unfortunately damp from rain and rather like quicksand) and it is sitting in small mounds in my vegie garden, ready to dig in, because I’d read potash is good for the soil.
 
And dad has begun the pile again, because trees and roses and shrubs continue to be pruned; no longer fire-ravaged, just the normal cycle of a garden’s life. But I don’t think we’ll be letting the pile get quite that big again before the next burn.

 

10 comments:

  1. ha, yes indeed! i can fully understand that reaction, lizzy.

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  2. I want to say what a lovely event, but I'm sure it would have been bittersweet. It sounds like it would be a very cleansing experience though.
    I too would have felt like a five-year-old in a (supposedly) adult body seeing the firetrucks. You are not alone.
    I do use ash from my firepit burnings on the garden, particularly fruit trees where it is meant to help harden off branches, but I have no idea what nutrient in ash does this. But it doesn't seem to hurt!

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    1. it was a strange event - it was kind of exciting - i mean, a good bonfire is fun - and also a relief to get the damn thing cleared away and done, finally.
      we figued the ash from the actual bushfires has helped some things re-grow really well and is good for the soil. i've already dug some into my vegie patch, but i'll grab some more for the fruit trees - thanks for the tip, Bek. from that huge pile, i will have a good supply for months!

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  3. Pretty momentous in many ways. I've just been reading through the posts about the fire so I understand why your mother didn't like the sound and why you wanted to close the book on the whole thing. Hope the ash does some good to your garden. I empty the ash from our woodfire onto the garden but with no logic, so it probably goes onto the wrong plants. Mind you, half of it usually blows back in my face.

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    1. thank you anne - and thank you for reading the original posts. i felt a lot of support at that time from people thru Dig In, so i hoped this would be an interesting follow up.
      i asked dad how much ash - which was sandy and gritty from the damp when i collected it - i should put around, and he had no idea! so a bit like you, i just chucked great handfuls about, with no idea if i'm doing it right! we'll find out come spring when i start growing things.

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  4. Isn't it strange that your January 2013 is described by bushfire - mine was shaped by flood. Recently the local council wanted to put on a celebration of resurrection, but it got rained out. Is that Ironic?

    My dad used to fire the log piles in July/August, as a lot of burning off takes place then where I grew up - still cool enough and not yet windy enough to not cause problems - and he would drop seeds in the ashes for us (or the cattle) to find wild crops of pumpkin and cucumber for the months to come.

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    1. having your celebration event washed out - I can imagine the mixed emotions going around that day, Jeanie.
      is hall have to share your story about your dad dropping seeds into the ashes to my dad. I wonder if he's heard of that before. I'm beginning to think a bonfire must make for fertile soil beneath.
      I don't think I've visited your site for a while :-( I must fix that

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  5. Wow, a strange milestone, indeed. I suppose that it gives some closure, a proper ending.

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    1. I guess it does, leaf. I think many of the locals have moved on from the fires, and I don't think my parents were too emotionally affected by this burn off - I think more relief at finally getting the huge thing cleared away. but I think yes, it really does mark that time off well.

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I've had to turn word-verification back on - the robot-spammers are loving my orange pudding too much at the moment! I hope you understand - and I hope you'll still leave a comment at Dig In. I love hearing your thoughts, knowing someone is reading, and will always reply. Unless you're a robot-spammer.