Amber Sweet, 32, Gawler, SA
Watching the news, I shook my head in disbelief. ‘This sounds bad,’ I said to my husband, Scott, 33.
It was November last year and there were warnings of a catastrophic fire endangering the nearby town, Pinery, SA, and neighbouring areas. We lived about half an hour away, and with two young boys, Kaiden, six, and Rhylan, five, it was terrifying.
Over the past few days, the weather had been extremely hot, with temperatures soaring over 40 degrees. I’d become obsessed with checking weather reports and warnings to ensure we weren’t in any danger.
For now, we seemed to be in the safe zone. But my heart broke for those poor people at risk of losing their homes, livelihoods or loved ones.
The next day, Scott kissed me goodbye before heading to work. Glued to the news reports, I was horrified when I saw a fire had broken out. It’s started, I texted Scott.
By 2.30pm, I was so anxious I decided to collect the boys from school early, along with other parents who were doing the same thing. The safest place for them is at home with me, I thought.
...there were warnings of a catastrophic fire...
As we drove back, my mobile rang. I answered on the hands-free and Scott’s voice came over the loudspeaker. ‘I’m trapped in the fire and I’m not going to make it out,’ he cried.
‘Are you serious?’ I stammered. Scott explained that after he’d left work the fire had consumed the highway. ‘The flames came from nowhere and they’re on top of the car,’ he said. ‘There’s so much smoke it’s pitch black, I can’t see.’
I couldn’t take it in.
‘Amber, I want to say goodbye to the kids,’ Scott said urgently. This can’t be happening, I thought, my blood running cold.
‘You know Daddy loves you very much,’ Scott started saying to the boys. ‘But I might not be coming home.' Kaiden and Rhylan burst into tears. ‘You have to come home,’ they begged.
'I want to say goodbye to the kids'
Over the phone I felt helpless as Scott sounded more desperate. ‘I can’t breathe,’ he choked. ‘I’m going to turn around.’
‘You’re going to come home tonight,’ I said firmly, although I was trembling inside. ‘Just keep driving and don’t stop until you make it.’ ‘You know how much I love you,’ he replied. Then the line went dead. Frantically hitting redial, I couldn’t get back through.
By the time we got home, I was hysterical. Climbing out of the car, my legs buckled beneath me and I collapsed onto the driveway. ‘What if I never see him again?’ I sobbed.
As I lay there, I heard the boys crying in the back seat. I realised I had to be strong for them and took them inside. ‘Daddy will be okay,’ I soothed, trying to calm them down.
Then the line went dead.
I dared not call anyone in case Scott tried to get through. So I sent a text to our families. Scott was trapped in a fire. He said his goodbyes but I know he’ll make it home.
Pacing about, I willed him to phone. Almost two hours passed before my mobile rang. Scott!
‘I made it out and I’m okay,’ he promised. ‘I’ll be home soon.’
As relief washed over me, I fell to the kitchen floor. ‘Daddy’s safe!’ I called out to the kids. We arranged to meet at his parents’ house nearby.
When we arrived, Scott was already standing in the driveway. The boys ran towards him and he scooped them into his arms, smothering them with hugs and kisses. Then he clung to me and we cried. ‘I love you so much,’ I sobbed.
The next day we spent quality time together at home. And by the time Scott left for work the day after that, the fires near his work were under control.
I’m so thankful he made it out unharmed. Scott is my soulmate. Our lives wouldn’t have been the same without him. I’ll cherish every moment we have together.
Driving home from work, the sky got darker and darker as it filled with smoke. Before I knew it, the fire had jumped the road and surrounded me. Ash poured into my car through the vents and I thought it was the end.
That’s when I called Amber and the kids to say goodbye. It was so hot I could barely breathe. I turned my car around to try and escape it, but I could only see 30cm in front of me.
People started following me and cars were crashing into me, but I just kept driving.
It was such a relief when I made it out alive and home to my family. They are my world.
The Pinery Bushfire
The catastrophic blaze burned from November 25 to December 2. It destroyed at least 210,000 acres of scrub and farmland. Two people lost their lives and 90 were hospitalised, with five of the victims suffering critical injuries.
The inferno gutted 91 houses, 388 non-residential structures, 93 pieces of farm machinery and 98 vehicles. More than 53,000 poultry and 17,500 head of livestock perished and up to $40-million worth of fodder and unharvested grain was wiped out.
Originally published in Issue 40 of that's life! magazine - October 6, 2016.