Tasman Burning

It wasn’t just recovering from that virus and its after-effects that kept me from posting for the past week; or the usual demands of the start of semester; or the builders coming back to finish the attic conversion.

On Friday the fourth of January, my hometown of Hobart in Tasmania reached a record temperature of 41.8°C, and the state experienced its worst bushfires since the year before I was born. It was the start of a week of fires around Australia, as a heatwave in the centre recoloured temperature maps and sent blasts of scorching air to different parts of the country in turn.

On that Friday morning, my parents drove my brother and his family up to Hobart airport from their home near Nubeena on the Tasman Peninsula, not thinking much of the small fire they spotted along the way. By lunchtime, after they’d done their weekly supermarket shop, the road back home was closed by what had turned into a raging fire that destroyed hundreds of homes, particularly in the small town of Dunalley right on the highway.

On the other side of the world, I had picked up news of the fires on Twitter and was worried that my folks were stuck on the peninsula, not knowing they were stranded on the other side of the roadblock. I heard they were safe from my brother when he was back in Sydney, but the worry then was that they had nothing with them—certainly not the valuables you’d rescue when preparing to flee a fire, like passports and back-up drives. And there was another fire burning on the other side of the hill behind their house, with no fire service vehicles nearby.

For a few tense days, I watched the Tasmanian Fire Service bushfire page closely, as the Stormlea Road fire near their house went to a “Watch and Act” rating one step short of an outright emergency. Mum and Dad had been put up by my sister-in-law’s family, but had no idea when they would get home, or if it would even be there when they did.

In the end it was over a week before the road to the peninsula was reopened to residents. Their home was untouched, and the fire near it is now contained, although still burning. Their neighbour said that the people left in their area had to evacuate to the beach three times during the worst days, when it looked like the fire was breaking out.

Scary stuff, and it’s not over yet; after a cooler week, temperatures are rising again in Tasmania, and other communities are under threat.

Still, my parents have had a lucky escape for now, especially compared to some of their neighbours in the region. The worst they suffered (beyond the anxiety of that week) was a freezer full of rotten meat after eight days without power.

I have a couple of photo galleries of the Tasman Peninsula on this site, and found myself looking over them while my head was full of it all. It’s a beautiful part of the state. And that prompted me to dig out the photos from our last visit three years ago and turn the best of those into a gallery too. Here it is:

Tasman III

None of these locations has been affected by the fires as far as I can tell, although they’ve gone close to Eaglehawk Neck and the Tesselated Pavement. There are photos of some affected places in the earlier galleries, though, like Taranna and Dunalley.

I just read that the road to Fortescue Bay has been closed by the ongoing fires; I hope that doesn’t bode badly. I didn’t include it in the gallery above, but here’s Fortescue in less fraught times:

Fortescue Bay, December 2009

15 January 2013 · Journal