Another serene morning, so still, so calm. The sunlight is just touching The Hill with a soft golden glow, there isn’t even a breath of wind, and the early visitors to the garden have included a little swamp wallaby, two different kinds of rosella, and the ubiquitous and strangely haughty magpies.
Yesterday was cool, especially the evening when quite a gusty wind blew in from seawards, but today the thermometer is predicted to be rising again. Nothing like the super hot days we had this time last week, but enough to keep us on our toes.
Both Matt and I have a new morning ritual which involves checking both the Bureau of Meteorology website (BoM) and the Rural Fire Service site (RFS). A couple of weeks ago we received both an official phone call and a call from our local RFS captain when the following day was deemed to be ‘catastrophic conditions’, but we don’t want to rely on others. We want to be ahead of the game.
The sad reality is, however, that we have a long way to go to catch up.
We live on a bush block.
We chose it because it is a beautiful, healing place to be, away from the rush and clamour of life in the suburbs of a growing city.
We chose it for these serene mornings.
But it is a bush block.
Trees and tall native grasses surround the house, and although we have quite a large, mostly open garden, they are very close.
Our nice, friendly, neighbourhood RFS people have been working double time to help residents around here become ‘fire-ready’.
We are not.
We knew that.
Last week we did a walk-around of a ‘model block’ with the RFS and a few other locals. We learned two things.
We really are not ‘fire-ready’.
‘Fire-ready’ is achievable.
It might just take a few years.
Project One. Increase the buffer around the house site.
We had already started this, although Matt stopped after he realised that the long grasses that he was brush-cutting had stopped being a tall fire fuel (we are reliably told that fire burns at about 4 times the height of the fuel – these grasses are taller than me!) and had become a mobile fire fuel. Many of the houses that burned in the Canberra Fires of 2003 (we were there) were as a result of ember attack. Here we were, producing potential embers. Large ones.
Query – what do we do with the stuff that we slash?
Solution – render it down to a small manageable pile that can be kept wet, by raking it together and mulching it.
Query, the second – how do we do that for an area the size of the model block’s buffer when he has a tractor with a slasher and we have a brush-cutter and a domestic mulching machine?
Solution – same way as you eat an elephant – one bite at a time.
So we started again, picking a small area just outside the gate to the house site. Matt cut, I raked, Will mulched. Three hours later, and you could see a distinct difference to the area we had picked. Admittedly I was still raking and was also using the long handled choppers to ‘lift’ the lower branches of the trees in the area, and Matt and Will, both mulching by now, had worn out the machine which had decided that it was time for a break and needed a little TLC.
There’s a lot to do.
Apart from an extra 10-20 metres around the house block, we want to clear across to the main dam and down to the grey-water dam, and then widen our track clearing, and hopefully slash under the power easement, too. Wow. Put it like that and… doesn’t bear thinking about. We just plan to chip at it, a bit at a time.
Iain said it took him about three years to get to where his block was cleared sufficiently around the house, and it only took him three days to slash now (with his tractor).
I’m thinking three is the lucky number.
His place looks great. There are still trees, it doesn’t look like a big, bare area, but the ground cover is super short and the trees are all ‘clean’. The rest of his block is like ours (‘unimproved’).
I’m thinking that a tractor is next on the big purchases list. One that likes steep, rocky slopes.
In the meantime, there’s a lot to do.