When I was reasonably small I remember that each night I had a routine before going to bed.
I had to push my face up against the fly screen on the window, first one way, then the other, and check as much of the surrounding neighbourhood as I could see to make certain that there were no fires coming. (I would have loved to be able to take the fly screen out to be able to see better, but I don't think Mum and Dad would have appreciated that.)
If I couldn't see a fire, then my family would be safe to go to sleep. I don't know why I thought a fire couldn't come from the other side of the house, but I never felt the need to check beyond my own window. I'm not certain that Mum and Dad ever knew that I had to do this to protect our family (yes, typical oldest child - I was personally responsible for everything, including the safety of our family from fires).
Thinking about it, it was probably grade 4, because the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983 would have happened in the first term of my grade 4 year. And that event (whilst I don't remember it) was widely reported across Australia.
There is no way I could have had first-hand experience of fire. I've never lost any possessions to fire. I've never lost anyone I love to fire. I've never lost a pet or my livelihood to fire. The only way I could have known about it would be from images on the news and the hushed tones in which my parents would have discussed it. And yet, it impacted on me strongly enough that every evening I had to check to make certain we were safe from fires before I could go to sleep.
My thoughts and prayers go out to all who are currently involved in the fires down south, particularly as the death toll rises with each successive news report.
And it might not be a bad idea for those of us in the rest of the country to have a word with our kids (if we have any) about the fires. Even if you don't think they can know about these fires, they may have seen an image on the TV, or heard discussion at home, school, or between grown-ups somewhere.
Having said that, I have no idea what would have put my childhood fears to rest. Eventually we moved and for some reason I don't remember needing to check for fires at the new house. All I know is that fire impacted on my life in a very real way from the safety of a couple of thousand kilometres away.
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