As a farmer, I’ve experienced the awesome power of fire, and know only too well the fear and respect with which that force of nature must be held.
We only ever had one truly serious bushfire on our property, but I won’t forget it. Never in my life have I felt so powerless, so insignificant and ineffectual. And I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so frightened. That fire was a monster; it devoured the trees and grass and bushes with a rapacious appetite.
The Victorian bushfires that exploded on February 7th 2009 were the most ferocious Nature has ever thrown at anyone in Australia. That day in particular has burnt itself into the collective psyche of this country. It eclipses in so many ways all previous bushfire disasters that have scorched us to the soul.
The images from that day were so stark and confronting that I couldn’t stop thinking about them. They haunted me until I had no choice but to write something. The staggering power of Nature, the terrifying futility in the face of such a force, and the immense suffering and loss, are among the pictures that stand out. Less spectacular, but more enduring to my mind, were the stories that emerged later of courage and fortitude, camaraderie and indomitable human spirit. These images of ordinary people doing extraordinary things were what spurred me to write this story.
I consciously decided not to set this tale in the area of Victoria affected by the Black Saturday fires, although many similarities might be recognisable. Instead, I set the story in a fictitious town that could be anywhere in the bushfire belt of Australia. I did this partly to avoid causing pain to any individuals, but also because fire is a creature that casts its shadow over so much of this wide brown land.