TOUCHED BY FIRE

Carly Mitchell

Touched by Fire is a short descriptive piece that explores how bushfires leave their marks in both people’s lives and the land they live on. Inspired by the 2020 bushfires of South Australia, these images derive from the experiences of the author.

 

TOUCHED BY FIRE

Blackened, charred surfaces. That’s as best as anyone can describe the Hills. Trees that once stood proud along the road, now hollowed, with branches hanging from strips of bark. The grass around them is burned to the knubs – anything left is dry and crumbles at the slightest of touches.

What’s funny – perhaps not funny, just odd – is that a couple metres off, in one of the paddocks, a patch of grass, while yellow, sits unharmed. It’s random. Blotches of grass dot the paddock in a random pattern. The blaze swept the ground so fast; it missed multiple spots. Some other paddocks weren’t so lucky, and they sit beside the others as darkened crisps of land.

Those who stayed behind outlined their property in water, and it shows. The ash stops suddenly, and lush green bushes still bloom along fence lines. Lawns, still plush with life. However, not everyone had the same choice.

Someone’s abandoned tinny sits in a pile of brick and rubble. The house beside it still stands, but threatens to topple over. I would not have noticed the dwelling before – did not notice, in fact. A line of trees had once hidden it from view. Apparently, it was a hundred years old. All lost, crumbling to dust.

The winds determined where the fire went. Encasing the hillside town is a ring of black. As its own little oasis, houses still light up the night with twinkling Christmas lights. Inside is business as usual, yet everyone has their own stories. The local Foodland still trades, with hampers set out for those that were unlucky. Cafes set out chalk-board signs, inviting people in for free coffee and cake. The church opens its doors, the minister greeting tired guests.

The smoky, choking cloud still hangs in the air. More fires, but further away. The wind, still determining the way of things, blows the ash over the townships, almost like a reminder. The retching coughs start up, as people, unable to comprehend what happened and unable to understand the severity, breathe it all in.

The rolling hills are left as a reminder. Each a variation of black and grey, empty and broken. It may take weeks, months for the grass to grow back fully. The locals are hopeful, however. The ash will bury into the soil, and enrich the paddocks. The grass may grow back better, fuller, lusher than before. That’s all anyone can hope for, as people band together, and the pictures of blackened earth are replaced by bright smiles. Families sharing food, comforting those that lost everything.

Christmas parades are rescheduled for February, with the town lights sparkling once more. Children riding their parents back, reaching as floats drift on by. Happy teenagers snacking on fairy floss, taking photos, babble to each other. Grandparents parked by the side of the road in their wheelchairs and walkers clap long to the music. Spirits are healing. People are hopeful.

And as I sit in the back of the car, leaving the town I knew as a little girl, I know they will be alright. The sun sets behind the hills.

Carly’s passion within the arts has always been storytelling. She is always willing to grow her skills, and with this piece she specifically worked on her descriptive and emotive writing. In lockdown she has focused on remaining happy, and this has taken her on a ride of Nintendo Switch games, movies and novels.

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