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  • Writer's pictureTracey Hawkins

2020- A fiery start to the year

2020 isn't a year I expected. It's gone to hell in a hand basket!

We had already spent the last few weeks of December 2019 wrapped in the veil of thick smoke from surrounding fires. Roads were open to the North and South of Canberra but not to the South Coast. Of course this is a popular destination for a majority of residents to spend the summer weeks.

I made plans to visit friends at Narrawallee NSW for New Years Eve. It meant a longer route to get down there bypassing Bateman's Bay and going inland towards Kangaroo Valley and down the mountain to Nowra and along, but it seemed viable. What could go wrong?

Now, I quite like adventure—thrive on it, but this trip eventuated in far more than I expected.

The first day I was well prepared with snacks, water, audiobooks and happily left the extreme heat and thick smoke in Canberra behind (with an ear on the radio for fire updates)

Canberra 30 December 2019

I made it safely down to my friends house.

Day 2 NYE- We headed to the beach in the morning eager to hit the surf. Climbing the the rise of the sand dune we were hit by incredible heat. The rush of air coming across the ocean seemed fuelled by an inferno. We darted in the water (which was freezing) had a quick swim and headed back to the house and the steamy disquiet of heat. Within hours, the sky around us filled with grey, yellow clouds and the increasing smell of smoke in the air was undeniable.

We kept an eye on the news updates and hurried backwards and forwards to the beach and creek to check what was happening.

Then the power and mobile network went out.

It was a reality check on how reliant we have become with technology.

We had no power = no means by which to cook or watch TV and no coffee! Oh no.

Without internet to get updates on our iPads/ Laptops/ we resorted to listening to the car radio. Without a phone connection we couldn't contact anyone to say we were okay. Our devices started to run low as they sought a connection. We couldn't charge them.

Then I heard the ABC announcement, the roads to anywhere were closed. There was no leaving.

It was an unsettled night unlike any New Year I'd had. The extreme heat was snatched away in the uprising wind that rolled in. The sudden, powerful gusts turned the approaching flames away from the house and back on the fire.

Narrawallee NSW 31 Dec 2019

The temperature changed. It was freezing. We sat wrapped up warmly with many others on the headland rocks at the point of the river and sea. A short distance as the crow flies from Lake Conjola. We watched in despair as the flames burnt the township


December 31 2019 Narrawallee NSW looking towards Lake Conjola

January 1 2020

We'd made it through the long night. The fires were still burning the next morning. Ash fell on homes in the area. People hosed and put out embers. Still no power and no phone network.

Mid afternoon we were surprised when the electrical items started working and we had a small step back towards life. Unfortunately, the phone network was still down.

January 2 2020

The roads opened with police control. I headed off on my return home. Shock, despair and horror was some of the emotions that flooded me as I joined the endless line of traffic existing the coast. I drove by smouldering trees and stared into voids of charred ruins only days before had been homes alongside the roads. It was a slow trip back to the Capital. Eight hours versus the four it had taken me to drive down.

Canberra was still engulfed in smoke. I could see the layer as I headed down the highway. It stayed that way into February. I almost couldn't remember what fresh air smelt like. Little did I know what lay ahead beyond the fires and a new world I couldn't image.

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