The New Year started rather abruptly for South Australians.
Fresh off a beautifully refreshing New Year’s Eve, the temperature began to soar to 40 degrees and on Friday, January 2nd, a bushfire started in Sampson Flat in the Adelaide Hills, destroying houses and threatening lives.
This wasn’t your typical, distanced tragedy. You know – the ones you feel empathy for, but struggle to personally relate to. This was happening among my friends and my family and at one stage, was only a handful of kilometres away from my kids. It was very, very personal.
My parents were displaced for 2 days as their home in the hills was under immediate bushfire threat – under a kilometre away. Another friend had a block burned and lost a tractor. Another friend tragically lost their beloved pet dog in the fire.
Another friend who lost a lot in the fire was Matt.
Matt lost his home.
I can’t imagine what that would be like. Years of memories, accumulated experiences gone in minutes, with little to nothing you can do.
I can’t imagine, but Matt can – and he was gracious enough to share with me some of his feelings and experiences. Photos included in the story below are from his home.
This is kind of a summer norm for us.
We’ve had to evacuate many times in the 14 years we’ve lived in Inglewood. In this particular case though, the family was spread out. My dad and I were the only ones close enough to get the text message telling us to evacuate, about midday Friday. Normally we would go home to collect our belongings, but this time the fire was spreading too quickly. All we had was what we had on our backs.
It was extremely scary. We all knew this fire was different to previous evacuations. We were tracking it through Twitter, radio stations, CFS updates etc, but none of us all felt confident about it.
By 11:30 Saturday morning, we could confirm the house was gone.
With my family being separated across the state – some up in Victor Harbor, dad and I in Adelaide – we didn’t actually get to see each other until Monday. We were shacked up across the state in different homes and since the fire I’ve probably stayed in about five different people’s homes. Sometimes to sleep, sometimes to shower, sometimes to eat…but there were lots of people willing to offer their home to our family.
It’s funny the way your energy changes throughout it all. At the start – before I knew we’d lost our home – I was up all night. Checking weather reports in particular, as we knew the wind was going to change. But once the house was confirmed as being burned, the adrenaline wore off. Since then, it’s been complete and utter devastation. We’re still staying positive, as we’ve been really fortunate in a lot of ways, but the reality check of losing our home was truly devastating.
You don’t realise how much people need help until you’re the one who needs it.
After a few days, I begin to think of the things I lost – and let me tell you, there’s a lot more than you would think! Obviously to lose all the photo albums and childhood toys was a big deal for us as a family but for me, the most devastating loss was my acoustic Washburn guitar. Guitars can be replaced, but this guitar was mum & dad’s and had been passed down to me. I played it all the time and it had a great feel and sound, but it was the sentimental value that can’t be replaced.
It’s been a really challenging time. Like anyone in this situation, I’m asking myself why this happened. Why did other houses not burn nearby while ours did?
But people have been amazing. We’ve received so much love and support. A free meal from Sunnybrook Chicken and Seafood stands out as a great moment, but there have been so many that really stand out that it’s hard just to pick one!
My family is so grateful for this. We can’t pay everyone back for all their kindness at the moment, but people just give and give without expecting anything back. I obviously see why everyone is so loving and caring, because if it happened to one of our friends I know as a family we’d be behind them non-stop. But when you’re the ‘victim’ and you’re being given all this help, it’s overwhelming – but in an amazing way. You don’t realise how much people need help until you’re the one who needs it!
This has been devastating and has really shaken me. But the way I look at it, we have to move on. We don’t have a choice about that. But we do have the choice of how we move on. We can accept pity and be miserable, or we can see it as still having our lives and that there are people who are a lot worse off than us.
Yes, we’re going to grieve and that’s acceptable. But there’s a difference between grieving and being downright depressed and having the attitude that, “life is over.”
I feel bad because I haven’t been able to help as much as I would like to. I feel as if now we are in the recovery stage it will hit us and it will all become reality. I feel that the adrenaline will be totally gone and that soon will be the time to grieve.
But I’m not feeling it right now. I’m just not.
I look at my parents and my sisters and all I feel is grateful.
Because they’re still here. They’re smiling, and they’re alive.
There are four things that stand out to me (Mike) from the Sampson Flat bushfire
- The CFS did an incredible job, working tirelessly to see the homes and people of Adelaide safe.
- Social Media was incredibly helpful, allowing the people of Adelaide to crowd-source information, pictures and warnings in real-time.
- The people of Adelaide supported each other in an unprecedented way. Community was redefined for the 21st century in an incredibly positive way.
- We were so very lucky.
We didn’t lose any human lives. We had relatively few stories like Matt’s. We lost very few businesses. The suburbs of Adelaide were threatened, but spared.
And then, in the middle of a scorching-hot summer, came the rains. A timely, out-of-season answer to the desperate prayer of thousands.
Like Matt, we will never be able to fully understand why this happened. We can question and become infuriated by why the fires began in the first place – whether that frustration causes us to become angry at humans, at God, at both or at neither, probably depends on perspective. We will never get full, satisfactory answers to these questions.
But we will be able to stand in awe of the human response and the power of the human spirit to withstand pressure and show love and compassion for one another. We will feel deep pride in the heroism and sacrifice showed by thousands of volunteers – not just the CFS, but also in response centres, churches, vendors, businesses and most of all, homes.
And we will see that what our state lost in the fire pales in comparison to what was found.
Matt is a musician, student, DJ and all-around good guy whose first post-fire interaction with this author was to ask, “what can I do to help?” If you’re asking the same question about how you can help Matt and his family, please contact me through the comments section.