The fire had been circling the town for days. It nibbled at the perimeter with bold jousting moves into the edges of the residential areas. The temperature climbed before flaring to a stifling heat, accompanied by gusting winds. The fire was hungry. It needed fuel.

They’d been keeping an eye on the hills nearby. Concern grew as the flames licked and streaked along the ridge lines. The day got hotter. They watered their roof and kept an eye out for embers which were the flying hot heralds of what would follow. They soaked the lawn as well, wanting to reduce any chance of the fire getting too close. Neighbours watched on, bemused by their efforts.

Fire engines arrived in the street. They issued warnings to get out, that there weren’t enough services to keep everyone safe.

A roar like a jet engine. A glance out the kitchen window showed a flare of red dancing along a neighbour’s fence. They got out, kids, dogs tumbling over each other. Into the car, driving fast, trying to avoid others doing the same. Blackened rain falling on the windscreen. But there was no rain. This was the fire’s own weather system. Thick smoke was everywhere. Chaos as people bolted to safety.

Fortunately the fire crews were able to contain the blaze. Neighbours came home to blackened lawns and chunks missing from their roof. The singed air was sour.

The fire consumed the nearby wetlands. The wooden bridges and the native sanctuary for birds and animals – scorched and gone.

The fire retreated. Still smoking and snarling, flames licking along the dried outskirts, simmering, waiting.

This is a fictional account of a friend’s experience during the recent bushfires in Lithgow, NSW. The state remains under catastrophic fire conditions, and other parts of the country are also under siege.

[Photo: scorched trees near Blackheath, NSW]