We live in the driest state in the driest continent on earth. Summers here can be harsh and unforgiving in their intensity. We regularly suffer days of heat above 39 degrees celsius (102 F plus) that stretch into weeks. In this heat, electrical equipment fails, much needed air conditioners shut down in the middle of the blazing day, and shopping centres become crowded as people try to stay out of the heat.
It’s often said flippantly by people looking for an answer to the burning questions of climate science, but I don’t remember this many scorchingly hot days when I was younger. Our school always had a hot weather policy, but I don’t think it was activated a heck of a lot.
Last week saw the beginning of the worst bushfires in South Australia since Ash Wednesday in 1983. It started in the Adelaide Hills area near Kersbrook; only a half hour drive from here. The native flora dries out so quickly in the summer heat that it provides plenty of fuel for the merest spark.
The fires quickly spread over the next several days as temperatures soared to 42 degrees and above (109 F). The wind at the fireground whipped the flames in all directions and blew storms of embers to new locations. Brave CFS (Country Fire Service) crews worked day and night to control the blaze, but the adverse weather conditions on one day meant that even they had to pull out to preserve their own lives and let it burn out of control.
We could see dark smoke hanging like a mushroom cloud not too far away from us. The acrid vapours drifted over the city of Adelaide and hung low over our town. Not surprisingly, we were following CFS alerts closely just in case we had to evacuate. In fact, we knew several people who had to do so because they were closer to the heart of the fire, and their properties were threatened.
On one of the worst days, with the fire not too far away from us, I went outside to see the sunset. The sun’s rays were bent and refracted through the smoke and dust in the air, creating an amazing sunset. From destruction, beauty can arise.
As the CFS alerts continued to filter through, I found it important to go about things as normal. After all, our fire plan was simple enough, and making a few photos helped to keep things calm.
Despite the threat, the bushfire never came to our town. Much needed rain has fallen in the last few days, and the fires are now well under control. Authorities are still not entirely sure of the total damage, but suffice it to say that there’s been more than enough destruction of fauna, flora and people’s homes to call this the worst bushfire in South Australia since Ash Wednesday.
I also made another photo with a very different device. It’s blurry and technically horrible by most standards, but I think it captures more evocatively the grimness of the fires.
This is a fiery sky through a pinhole lens. It’s a blurry and grainy nightmare, and I think it better transmits the essence of the night our community was under threat.