By the time we left the yards on our way back to house, approximately 10km along a winding and undulating dirt track, it was getting quite dark. This wouldn’t normally be a problem unless, of course, your lights didn’t work! Added to this was the complication of very light drizzle and guess what? the wipers didn’t work either! We had set off in the ute, in front of John and the others towing the float (horse box) but with his lights shinning past us on either side, the road ahead was complete darkness so had to swap round. Following his tail lights wouldn’t have been too bad if we hadn’t had to lean out of the windows on either side as the windscreen was almost obliterated by damp dust! At any left hand bend Roger lost all view of the tail lights and I had to shout (because both windows were down and the engine noise was almost overpowered by The Who backing track which seemed to be stuck on a loop on the CD player) directions to stay out of the undergrowth until he resumed visibility.
As we neared the house we could see enough to notice the orange glow in the sky, not too far away from where the rubbish had been burnt the previous night. This had been eventful enough for the boys when some unspent cartridges, aerosols or other pressurised containers exploded. The dump is just over the side of the road about 2-300 yds from the house. When we had retired to bed that night I did wander around the corner of the garden to check the state of the previously towering flames, under the impression that all would have died down, only to note that the flames, which must have been over 10 feet tall, were still visible. The boys returned to throw some buckets of water on to it and all seemed to be ok.
24hours later the glow had shifted along and after dropping everything off Roger and I went out with John to investigate. We jumped back into the ute but before going any distance both of them leapt out, leaving both doors open whilst John yelled at me to put the break on. I stupidly tried the hand break but nothing happened as I trundled towards the fencing! I should have remembered that it didn’t work as I’d nearly been run over by it previously when I’d had trouble opening some ‘gates’ which were actually just the join in 2 fence panels so John had got out to help me, not really noticing that we were on a bit of a slope until I was just about to be nudged into the panel by the front bumper!
Anyway, the starter motor had failed so they were fixing that before setting off to check the fire which transpired to have spread along the bottom of the gully and ignited a little copse of trees further along that track. We drove past, noting the flaming tree trunks adjacent to us, checked its furthest limits and returned, just somewhat hampered by 2 trunks which had fallen across our path in the few minutes we’d taken to turn around and come back!
We returned to the house and John rigged up a pressure tank with hose which worked off the car battery. As the wiring was a bit dodgy and the cable traversed the passenger side of the ute we 3, now joined by Jamie, had to stand on the back of the flat bed whilst we drove past the burning trees again! At least we were able to gain full advantage of the lovely aroma of burning eucalyptus!!
The plan was to set up a back burn i.e. burn off all the highly inflammable fuel (grass, weeds, etc) in the path of the fire by burning back towards the main body but damping down the edge where we wanted it to stop. I was to operate the pump switch from the passenger seat which I had to climb in to from the drivers side, without knocking it out of gear as that was the only breaking mechanism! As these trucks have long gear sticks it left me about 3 inches through which to wriggle my leg, (maybe once a long time ago!) Also I had to ensure that I didn’t cause it to stall as it probably wouldn’t start again. All this within a few feet of a blazing bush fire, headed towards me before I could reach the switch which operated the water pump! No pressure then?!
Somehow I managed it, but am still unsure quite how, then Roger jumped in beside me to drive up and reverse back along the advancing fire line which Jamie was exacerbating by igniting frequent bunches of dead grass under direction from John, who was soaking the front line from the tank on the back of the ute, powered by the car engine. Amazingly it all seemed to be working well, even though we were unbelievably close to the inferno, studying particularly burning tree trunks which would reach us if they fell towards us, until the engine stalled and died spontaneously!
John calmly said to wait 5 minutes and start the engine again by knocking the starter motor with a big metal crow bar as the key was turned. This happened 3 times in total with each engine sound becoming progressively more ropey with each restart. Finally John was happy that the fire was contained enough for us to leave it before the vehicle gave up completely and we returned to the house with me still trapped in the passenger seat. I had already decided that I would sacrifice the pump’s power supply if I felt in any immediate danger! We returned to the house relatively unscathed but after a long day in the saddle, up the hill, fencing and having our ‘lunch’ at 6pm, followed by a hairy drive with no lights through woodland and 2 hours fire-fighting I didn’t feel like waiting for an evening meal so collapsed into bed, after what had been a very eventful day in the outback. Thank goodness they haven’t all been like this!