5th February 2022, the day before our planned departure for our Esperance trip, and the weather forecast for the following day wasn’t favourable. The forecast promised catastrophic fire conditions, with temperatures around the mid 40s accompanied by high winds. We were to be travelling in convoy with friends. We decided on a wait and see approach, they decided to set off as planned in the early morning. We hoped the conditions would become more favourable later in the day.
We awoke on Sunday, departure day, and took Mr Tilly for a long beach walk, then leisurely finished packing the last minute things into the caravan. Our initial plan was to travel via the south west town of Bridgetown, a lovely little town on the Blackwood river, which would have provided our first stopping point for a leg stretch. However, Bridgetown and it’s surrounds was already alight, as was the more southern area of Denmark. These roads were out of the question. If we were to set off at all on the Sunday we would need to travel through the dry wheat belt towns. Busselton to Esperance is over 700kms, so if we were to honour our booked travel dates we needed to get at least 200 – 300kms behind us on the first day.
Around mid-day, despite the weather conditions showing no improvement, we took a giant leap of faith and set off with the alternate overnight stop in the wheatbelt town of Kukerin being our planned destination.
The trip was going well. We considered still meeting up with our friends in Ongerup, as per our original plan. They arrived into Ongerup in the early afternoon and phoned to tell us it was 45° with gale force winds, and the power in the town was out. Not an option to consider….. So on we headed on towards Kukerin, all the while listening to ABC radio, and keeping an eye on DFES, WA’s emergency website.
By 1pm four major bushfires were burning across the southwest. The catastrophic fire conditions predicted were being realised. The two most recent outbreaks were to the north of us, and, in less than two hours from when they were first reported, they had become news all over the country. The speed and ferocity at which the wind fuelled flames were travelling caused us more than a moments reflection as to whether or not we had been foolhardy to set off for any travel at all far from home on such a day.
Needless to say, we arrived at Kukerin unscathed. We had power so could plug in and keep our frozen food frozen, our fridge food cool, and ourselves relatively cool in the air conditioned van while temperatures outside soared into the low 40s. By 8pm the air had cooled and the winds had dropped a bit. We slept, albeit fitfully, with our noses well tuned to any possible smell of smoke.
We awoke to the news the fires to our north, although still un-contained, were now stationary. On we travelled, meeting up with our friends in Ravensthorpe to continue onto our destination for the next two nights at the newly renovated, RAC caravan park in Esperance.
With a bit of a mix up with our bookings our two sites aren’t close. They’re right up the back of the park, whilst Paul and I have scored a delightful site which looks over the pool to the Norfolk Island pine lined shores of the Southern Ocean.
The weather has cooled down to the low 20’s, the wind’s still blowing, but not so ferociously, and all of the wild fires have now been downgraded. So all’s well that ends well. If you asked us if we would travel cross country again on a day with weather conditions predicted to be in the catastrophic fire risk category. . Our answer would be a firm NO, we would not. That fire to the north of us came out of nowhere and spread with such ferocity that it was really worrying to us despite being a couple of hundred kms to the south of the flames. However the two fires could just as easily have started right in our path, both from where had come from, and to where we were going. Hindsight tells us we took an un-necessary risk with not only our own lives and safety, but that, if things had gone pear shaped for us, we would have been putting an added and unwanted burden on the wonderful volunteer fire brigade that were already risking their own lives to save the people, homes, farms and livestock in the path of the fire. No, we are here to tell the tale by good luck, not good management. But we are here now – time to get out and see how Esperance has changed since were last here many, many years ago. So be sure to watch this space for an update…..