We just spent six days at Rosedale. In case you didn’t know, the small hamlet of North Rosedale, New South Wales, was almost wiped out by bushfires on New Years Eve 2019.
The road into North Rosedale will be closed for some time and we were not allowed to walk there because trees may fall and there’s lots of asbestos dust around. Reports say 14 houses still stand out of maybe 70? I took the top photo on Monday. It shows the long Rosedale Beach where people sheltered during the fire (see the video at the bottom).
South Rosedale (which is just called Rosedale) fared better. We lost between 15–18 houses out of 70, with many more being damaged. (Note to self: check a map and figure out how many houses are in both.)
North Rosedale and Rosedale are (well, used to be) connected by a timber foot bridge and the main highway (no internal connecting roads because of the creek that runs between the two).
We were in Taiwan when the fires were approaching, but our friend Chloe was at our coast house with her dog and ours. Thank goodness, Chloe was super organised. On the 30th, she packed her car and filled it with fuel. She put both dogs on leads and left them like that. For hours, we were texting back and forth. I asked her to ‘rescue’ a few precious items from the house.
Of course, there was a big chance that Chloe would hit fire fronts or blocked roads. and have to sit it out in an evacuation centre. So I urged her to take plenty of water, fire blankets, lots of gear for the dogs and tinned food. Oh and be sure to take the WINE.
Chloe set her alarm for 5:30am on the 31st, but said she would move as soon as she woke up. That must have been about 4:30, because I got a message from her at 4:45am and was on the road by 5. Later I was to learn that she had whipped around with the vacuum cleaner before she drove away. Geez!
Turns out she had a good run, driving north through Kangaroo Valley and then on to Canberra. I won’t add a map here, but it was a detour that meant a trip that normally took two hours took almost five. A couple of hours later, Kangaroo Valley was on fire and many of the roads she travelled were closed because of fires.
Now for the heroics
There is no way I can adequately describe the heroics and strokes of luck that meant our house and many others in Rosedale are still standing. The fires hit mid-morning on New Year’s Eve.
Obviously we weren’t here and didn’t live through it, but here is some of what I think happened. Some information conflicts. So forgive me if I misstate anything.
For example, I originally thought the fires started in North Rosedale and then came at Rosedale, but yesterday I learned it may have been the other way around. The blaze was heading up our street and then the wind changed, driving the fire back on itself and towards North Rosedale.
Our Rosedale heroes have been Mick, David, Richard and Sue. These are people who stayed to fight (some had to evacuate along the way). They worked hard to put out spot fires. Richard lost his outbuildings and backyard.
Spot fires can last for ages, Sue told me that three air tankers and Elvis (a super firefighting helicopter) continued to drop water on Rosedale for three days after the main fire to minimise the chance of flare ups. I’m pretty sure Elvis dropped a few loads on our house because the roof is amazingly clean.
The most extraordinary thing is that once you climb the hill on Tranquil Bay (our street), you’d think nothing had ever happened. Oh, except that the little garden in the small circle near our driveway was burnt. Talk about a close call.
The fires have certainly brought our community together. If you search for Rosedale on Twitter, you’ll get us and a suburb in Vancouver. But if you come to our Rosedale, you’ll find that two streets—where about six houses were lost and more damaged—got together for a meet and greet. It was supposed to last for two hours, but went for five.
Sue has a pond and the wildlife has been quick to find sources of food and water. She’s heard five different frog calls and seen plenty of birds and wallabies visit. We started putting out seed and had as many as 12 birds on the deck at once, including eight king parrots. See some of our visitors above.
Also, there was a Go Fund Me campaign to purchased mobile water tanks for Rosedale. It raised $25,000 in a few days and we now have four units.
The drive back to Canberra
We drove back to Canberra yesterday. It’s 154 kilometres. Most of the first 70 kilometres is heavily treed and almost all of it (both sides of the road) has been burnt. Pooh’s Corner was a pleasant exception.
Some bushfire facts
Bushfires have been raging across Australia since July. Contrary to the fake news that has been spreading globally, the fires are not the work of arsonists. Less than 1 per cent of the land loss is attributed to arson. Horribly dry landscapes (drought) and dry lightning strikes are the main cause. Tonight there are fierce fires burning south of Canberra. There’s a long fire season ahead. So far we’ve lost 33 people, 3000 homes, 12 million hectares of bushland (or the land area of England) and more than a billion creatures.
As an aside
Our end of the street was virtually untouched by fire. Our house is perfect to share and (through Mick) we offered it to someone who had lost theirs. Paul and his dog have moved in downstairs and can stay for as long as they need. His wife and daughter (who have been in Sydney) have been here too.
It’s impossible to adequately explain the look of the landscape. I took all these photos during our stay. Captions tell more of the story. The video below was taken by the Kelly family (Bethany, Patrick and Madeleine). It was featured in the Guardian newspaper and on Monday’s bushfire special episode of Q and A. It shows people sheltering on the long Rosedale Beach and watching as the community burns.
P.S. For now I’m returning to travel pieces, but I’ll keep you posted on Rosedale’s progress. And if you’re hungry, please check out my cooking blog.