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Fighting Bushfires



Waking to the urgent sound of the notification tone on his mobile phone at 5am his heart initially sank. The tone was the one that told him in an instant that there was a bushfire emergency nearby.

As a member of the Volunteer Fire service, he dressed quickly and made his way to the fire station. Most of the crew were already there and as soon as the last arrived they were briefed on what was occurring.

A fire had broken out 20k’s from town and the wind was blowing it towards the town. There was a chance of the wind changing to a more westerly direction as dawn broke which would help. But it was not guaranteed.

They donned their gear and piled into the tender setting off in a tense silence through a town still mostly asleep. But they could already smell smoke in the air and braced themselves for the war they were about to wage.

They are not called firefighters for any old reason. They are called that as they go to war each time there is a fire. They all know the grim truth that they may not all return to their families. Yes, some of them could lose their lives fighting the fire. Yet they still do it.

Voluntarily. Such is the courage of our Volunteer Fire service.

Battling bushfires is not easy. The heat that it may generate is enough to kill you long before the first flame reaches you and melts your flesh.

An Australian bushfire is a demon in disguise. It can jump roads and rivers, travel at incredibly fast speeds. At 27km per hour, no man can outrun a bushfire.

It is able to “seed” itself by casting embers into the sky that are carried hundreds of metres or even kilometres ahead. It can even generate its own weather pattern. There are tornadoes of flame that reach 15m or more.

Fighting Bushfires

Small bushfires are fought by wetting them with water from either a tender of from an aircraft. Firefighters try to create breaks in the fuel supply by stripping the undergrowth from an area ahead of the fire front. This drops the intensity of the fire giving the firefighters a better chance of getting in control of the situation.

If the fire is too intense for this method (fire intensity is measured in the number of kilowatts of energy at the fire front, I do not know quite how this is achieved) then it fought indirectly. Fire breaks are made by bulldozing strips of land and forest. Water bombers are employed to drop tons of water on the fire front at each pass. There are both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft used to do this. They may drop a red fire retardant instead, sometimes on homes in order to save them.

Should the fire get even worse, and the battle is being lost, then an alert goes out to mobile phones (of residents who have signed up for this). There are regular updates on local radio and the fire service website. Even door-knocking is employed.

One more method used is “back-burning”. Areas ahead of the fire are deliberately lit by fire crews and a controlled burn takes place. When the fire front reaches the back-burnt area it will be starved of fuel. This method is not always successful as embers from the bushfire can be blown further ahead of the area igniting spot-fires which themselves can rapidly spread and increase in intensity.

Our volunteer fire-fighters continually put their lives on the lie to save us, our stock, our machinery, our homes and even our very lives.

To our fire-fighters, I congratulate all of you on your bravery and dedication. I believe each and every you of them should get a medal and be paid tax-free for time spent in the war against fire.

A novel by Hamish McKenna

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The Widows Blade Excerpt

the widows blade excerpt

The Widows Blade Excerpt

This is a work in progress titled, The Widows Blade.

It was only three months after their second son, who they named Matthew, was born that Kathleen’s husband was given a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The tour was to last twelve months. Kathleen was devastated. She was now to be on her own with the two boys for an entire year. She had been aware that this could happen but never in a million years thought that it actually would.

Somehow, though, she managed to get into a routine of getting Ben to school, Matt to Child Care, do her own job as a teacher, collect both children from the after school care facility and cook, clean and maintain a decent household. She really did not have any time to worry about her husband, But she was overjoyed when his tour of duty was finished and he was back home where he belonged. She was now guaranteed to have him by her side for a year, possibly, hopefully, more.

Kathleen’s husband was given a second, and then a third tour of duty in Afghanistan. They both knew that no-one ever did more than three tours and were even slightly pleased with this last posting because that would nearly take Matthew to the end of his ten-year contract. She and the children all waved goodbye to him happy in the knowledge that this would be his last time away from home.

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Mother Love


Fifteen minutes has passed

The sun is streaming through the window

Warming her face

The brightness of it pains her eyes

She looks away


Noise outside the window

Droplets of water that formed on the leaves

Now become rivulets on the central pathway

Travelling to the leaf tip and dropping

Splashing into the gathered puddles on the ground


Small birds flitting through the branches

Slaking their thirst with the freshly fallen life

Now chirping announcing their presence

For those who would listen


She turns to the sweet melodic sounds

Unable to see from where she lay

Kicks with delight making her own sounds

Still dazzled by the light there are shapes

Shapes and shadows on the reflective pane


Oh if she could make them out

A familiar sound approaches

She giggles and in her happy oblivion

The absence of knowledge blissful


Fifteen minutes had passed

Since she was placed here

Since the first drops of the summer shower

Driven to hit the window by the wind

Entertaining her eager mind


The large shadowy shape is here

There is a familiar pleasant scent

She burbles with pleasure at the touch

She floats effortlessly upward

Grasping the cloth in her tiny hand

She nestles in the bosom of her mother

© Hamish McKenna

Read The Widows Blade Chapter One Scene 1