Bush Fires

The last two days has been spent fighting a bushfire which destroyed thousands of acres near the Center. On Thursday I accompanied one of the teams fighting the fire and witnessed and felt things I will never forget. It is frightening beyond imagine and incredibly hot. I feel as if a gust of wind should somehow kick up and throw the flames your way, you could be dead in a second. We drove over charged, and smoldering ground and right near flames. Fortunately, this area was already largely cleared –  intentionally, so there was not much tall grass, but where the fire gets to tall grass it is devastating, burning thick, black, and out of control.  Of course, like living with wild game, living with bush fires is all part of the grind.  Shane was fairly unphased, as were his crew and assisting villagers.  I saw the smolder crossing our path and I asked Shane how we were going to get back. “Walk over it”, he said rather matter-of-factly, and proceeded to head in that direction, wearing nothing more than clogs, shorts, and a work shirt.  In fact, he walked just to the side of it, and I did the same.  From the main camp you could see and smell the smoke in the distance.  Allan informed me that the entire property has been burned out before and all they were able to save were the buildings. Man made bush fires are unfortunately a way of life, and they often get out of hand, as this one did.  Setting fires to clear a field is outlawed after June 1st, when the dry season begins, and the perpetrator will be jailed, or so I’m told. Allan told me that while the fire was being bravely fought over a two day period by a wide collection of people, including local villagers, the regional fire service, and our own center staff, the perpetrator just sat in his hut and drank beer. The images I have of an old women in traditional skirt walking by smoldering ground with a five gallon bucket of water on her head to help in the effort will never leave me. It was hot, smelly, smoldering, and in places flaming, and here she was, clearly in her 60s or 70s, carrying water on her head to help in the effort and walking inches away from hot surfaces with no protective gear of any kind.  We in America have no concept what village life in much of the world is like.

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