Fire and the Eclipse

The first I knew of it yesterday was the frequent flickering of the lights at work. “There’s an eclipse coming, so the electricity company will probably say that it is an act of God” said my friend Malte. I left the office 5 minutes early, thinking that the trains would probably be running late.

When I stepped outside into the scorching air I saw what looked to be a long bank of clouds to the North. Damn, I thought, it’s probably a storm come to ruin viewing for the eclipse. But, staring at it longer I realised that the base of the cloud was brown and seemingly rising from a small point. A fire! Oh well, it was in the North so I was not personally worried.

So I walked to the Epping train station and heard the not uncommon announcement that trains were running late and outside timetable order. I actually caught an early airconditioned train. Unfortunately, the airconditioner seemed to be set on low it was so ineffectual. Sitting back, I pulled out my Discman and switched on the radio.

I was shocked to hear that the fires were not restricted to the North, but were also burning in the Holsworthy area, which is in our general region. Furthermore, Holsworthy station lies on the same railway line that we use to get home, so I was concerned that trains would stop.

As it was, the journey from Epping to Central on the train was a stop-start affair, with signal and overhead power affected by the same surges and dropouts that had caused my office lights to flicker. It took a long time to complete my train journey. Thankfully, the trains were still running to my normal stop, though the line was cut a few stations ahead.

I met up with Beatrice, who had caught an earlier train, at the carpark and we drove off, only to find the road closed at Alford’s Point Bridge. We waited in the traffic for fifteen minutes before doing an illegal U-turn and taking the long way back via Hurstville and Sutherland.

As we crossed the George’s River, I could see a slice taken out of the setting Sun, reddened by the smoke, by the eclipsing Moon. The sky at Menai was darkened by the threatening smoke, its stench omnipresent. It was fortunate that we had taken the alternative route. Beatrice’s family, stuck on the bridge, took an additional hour to get home.

From the window at the study we could see the red smoke rising from Alford’s Point and Illawong. I couldn’t sleep for a long time, listening to the radio, waiting for updates.

Today, as I write this, I hear the intermittant sounds of fire brigade sirens and watch the helicopters flying across the horizon, towing water buckets. I’ve seen the famous Aircranes in action, hope they will not be needed here.

A line of smoke crosses overhead, shifts with the wind, returns. We have cleared some more of the garden under the brown-red light, thought about what we need to pack should evacuation be required. We picked up the brother-in-law’s dog and are keeping her here, just in case Illawong is affected and they cannot return.

Now and then the full sun returns and we wonder what is going on. Is it approaching, or is the threat only small? Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

At least I saw the eclipse.

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