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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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The Widows Blade Chapter Two Scene 1

The Widows Blade Chapter One

The Widows Blade Chapter Two

Scene 1 The Argument

“Mum” called out Ben from the hallway. “Is it okay if we go down to the site for a bit of a kick?”

“Alright Ben, don’t be too long though. Lunch will be ready in an hour.”

“Sure Mum.”

Kathleen Sneddon didn’t like her boy’s going to what they called the site to play, but she couldn’t really come up with a good enough reason for them not to go there. After all, most of the kids from the Willow Creek housing estate went there every weekend to play. The estate was one of the newer medium density housing schemes that had been put up on the outskirts of Glasgow in the post-war period.

The houses were all much the same. They were all terraced in blocks of eight and had shared entrances to the rear gardens. They weren’t the prettiest of houses with their grey roughcast walls, but they were solid and quite roomy for something provided by the council. Lots of people had recently taken up the option to purchase their home from the council instead of renting. Kathleen hadn’t done that though. Being a single mum who didn’t earn very much in her job as a Bakers Assistant, she simply just couldn’t afford it.

She knew she could trust Ben and Matt not to go inside the old brickworks factory itself. They would kick the football around the old brickyard for an hour or so and get rid of some energy, and God knows they had plenty of that at the moment since the school holidays had started. Kathleen was glad this was the last weekend before they went back to school. The summer break was always difficult for them. She heard the front door close and Matt talking in his usual full volume voice, “I bag’s first kick,” and Ben, much more quietly, “It won’t help you, I’ll still run rings round you.” She smiled inwardly, thinking how lucky she was to have such sweet kids.

The boys went down the road and turned left walking towards the walled entrance to the estate and then on out and across the main road. They were heading for the old brickworks factory that had been closed down for years and was now a popular playground for the local kids. Willow estate was nice and all that, but there wasn’t really anywhere for playing football. They expected to see a few other boys there when they pushed through the broken cyclone fence into the storage yards but there was no-one else in sight. No matter, they could easily play themselves.

Ben and Matt collected a couple of bricks each and set them out to use as improvised goalposts. They started in the middle and, with Matt quickly kicking the ball off to the right, the two boys started the game of football for two. They had been playing for around ten minutes when the sound of voices, raised, angry voices came to them. They both looked over towards the main building and saw three men arguing. The men were obviously getting angrier about something as they moved inside the building. They were still getting louder and a few words floated clearly out to the boys, “it’s you’re fault,” “mind,” “who do you think paid.”

“Come on Matt. Never mind them.”

And with that, the boy’s continued their game. They had been playing for around fifteen minutes when, after a bit of a heated tussle with the ball at their feet, Ben managed to get past Matt and raced off towards Matt’s goalposts. About ten yards out he gave the football an almighty kick with the toe of his training shoe. The ball, instead of going through the middle of the goalposts as intended, shot off the right edge of his shoe and flew through the air towards a pile of broken bricks and cement.

The ball must have hit a corner of one of the bricks as it ricocheted off the rubble at an angle and bounced its way across the ground and through the broken roller door of the factory that was partially hidden by more rubbish.

“You kicked it, so you can go get it,” said Matt.

Once Ben had trudged around behind the pile of bricks, Matt could no longer see him. “Come on, hurry up,” he called.

“I can’t find it, it must have gone through the door.”

“Hang on, I’ll come and look with you.”

Matt trotted around to where Ben had been looking, “Did you look behind the pile of rubbish over there?”


“Well it must have gone inside, go get it.”

“We aren’t allowed in there.”

“That’s only to play, stupid! We can go in and get our ball. No-ones around anyway. Come on.”

They went through the broken and twisted roller door into the gloom of the main building. The inside of the building was cavernous. It was about a hundred and fifty yards long by about fifty yards wide. It was one huge room with the ceiling height an equivalent of a three-storey building. Even though the building had lots of windows up high, as soon as you moved away from the doorway it became very dark. The odd shaft of light came through a broken window here and there adding to the atmosphere which the boys were finding rather spooky.

“Do you see it, Matt?”

“Yes. Look, it is over there.”

Just as they picked up their ball, a strange noise was heard by both of them. It was a sort of gurgling sound accompanied by a scraping noise. Then a wheeze followed, by another weird sound that came through the gurgle. The boys froze. They were frightened to look. Hearts pounding deafeningly in their ears, forcing themselves to slowly look to the right where the sound was emanating from, they gradually turned.

Gripping Ben’s arm hard enough to cut down the blood flow to his hand, Matt whispered, “Let’s go.” “Please, let’s go.”

Ben was older so he wasn’t about to show his little brother that he was frightened. With as much bravado as he could muster he took a step towards the scraping, wet sound, that was coming closer to them. About another twenty yards into the gloom a shaft of light was illuminating a section of the floor. As the boys stood there, rooted to the spot a shape began to form in the gloom beyond the light. Both boys were visibly shaking now as they took a couple of stumbling steps backwards.

“Run!” yelled Ben. Turning on their heels the boys ran towards the roller door, Ben ducked down under the hanging misshapen door and out into the sunlight. Matt was right on his tail but got his shirt snagged on the ragged edge of the door. In his haste to get free, he ripped the material and tore a gash in his arm. Oblivious to the pain because of the adrenalin pumping through his veins he very quickly caught up to Ben and the two of them ran back through the cyclone mesh fence, straight out across the main road where a car screeched to halt, barely avoiding running over both of them, and then on down the street heading towards their home.

Ben and Matt burst into the house almost breaking the glass in the front door.

“Hey, you too! Do not bang the door like that when you come in.”

The two boys were not able to get the words out fast enough, “There is someone in the site,” was what Kathleen could make out. They tried to explain that they thought there were two men arguing and that they got scared and ran back home to tell her about it.

“Right. Listen, you two. You know you are not allowed inside the factory. No more going down there to play.” Holding up her hands she said, “No but’s, I know the other kids play there but I do not want you to go there again. There is no telling who those people were but they were like as not up to no good. So that is it. I will hear no more of it. OK?”

The boys reluctantly agreed, “Yes Mum.”

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