In response to the bushfire crisis, Australian designer headwear brand Helen Kaminski has made a cash contribution of $10,000 to WIRES. In a special message, founder Helen Marie Kaminski recounts her personal story.
In the new decade fires are raging across Australia. It is high summer and in many parts the driest twelve months in living memory.
Last April, I moved to a studio on a bend of the Shoalhaven River a little upstream from where it meets the sea.
The land inside the river bend is a forest of eucalypts set amongst great boulders and sandstone cliffs - a spectacular and highly flammable landscape surrounded by eucalyptus forests stretching along the whole eastern side of the continent.
On New Years Eve a fire front - one of many - moved towards the river. A friend rushed from his holidays to help me and I am fortunate in that my studio is on a farm owned by a career fireman.
His son in law, brother in law and nephew are career firemen and these people, facing danger as they often do, stick together.
Hearing of the approaching fire, friends in the force arrived and fire hoses, pumps and fire-fighting gear had been set up in readiness.
The heat was stifling as a wall of angry smoke painted out the blue sky then completely doused the light of the sun.
I rushed to find torches and told myself I was up for this new and terrible experience. I would not leave, would stand firm and save my rented dwelling - if it came to that. But my hands were shaking.
My friend and I sat glum and afraid indoors, waiting for the call from the main house, set up with emergency communications in case phones went out. I stepped out into the darkness to look for the flaming face of the enemy instead of its choking harbinger.
But it was oddly cool....then daytime slowly re-emerged.
I walked the 400 metres to the main house where there was sudden optimism. The fire had been slowed by the arrival of a cool south wind. We were safe for a while. Relief and jubilation and a snack by the pool...converted to a fire-fighting facility with four pumps plumbed into it and a spaghetti of fire hoses running in every direction
But four days later, it was hot again and the fire had grown and was approaching from three sides. Further south the state was in full emergency with towns, farms, homes..burning and burnt. Everywhere creatures wild and domestic were caught by the fury of it.
Again we were sweltering in full fire-fighting dress - helmets, masks and goggles.
Again a horrific pall of hot smoke churned high above the licking flames - not yet visible but already radiating immense heat.
I was more calm this time but aware that if the fire caught on our tinder dry peninsular we might well lose property. The wide river was to be our final life shelter if it came to that. We had a plan and expected to survive with lives if not property intact.
The masked sun turned red then disappeared behind the thick smoke. The land became orange and all objects blurred in thick smoke....but again fluke weather had a hand in our fate.
All day on the flat coastal plain a sea breeze had been blowing softly, meeting the south west wind that was driving the fire towards us.
The point where they met - close to us - caused the fire to stall then change direction. We watched as smoke boiled high driven by the opposing two winds with dramatic pyrotechnics and crashing thunder.
Again we were lucky.
In the half light we tore off hot head gear and hugged, clapped backs and cracked a few beers open.
The front was moving fast - only a few kilometers from us. It would go north and cross 40 kilometers of dense forest to burn at my daughter’s back fence that night - and many others less lucky.
We were all deeply affected, elated, exhausted...sharply aware of how lucky we were.
To stay and defend property or to go? Had I young children, no question - I would go but to stay needs a degree of equipment and preparation I now understand. I only faced the approach - have not yet known a fire front up close but fear it all the more from what I have seen.
I now know that a large fire is a horrific, independent weather system bringing darkness as night time, unbreathable smoke and crashing thunder - before the flames are sighted - though the heat can be felt a long way off.
I am not sure how survivable these fires are. I will stay and face again perhaps if rain doesn’t come and I know my hands will go on shaking as I do.
Weather comes in cycles but mankind can manage its affect on both climate and the land. In Australia we live with flammable trees on a dry continent on a warming planet. Maybe we can’t arrest decline but I think we can mitigate and manage so as to allow the survival of life on our planet.
Every form of life not charged with the management of our land is a tragic innocent when left lying charred and lifeless in the wake of uncontrolled firestorms.