chapter  4
Wildfi re, Resilience and Sense of Belonging
Pages 21

Graham’s face reddened as his voice gave in to the emotions that were making his hands shake and pushed tears to his eyes. Sighing deeply he cleared his throat and with a barely audible voice apologised. “I’m crying. I still cry. I can’t help it. I’m sorry. It’s hard to talk about it. I’ve been in fi re fi ghting for forty years and that was probably the scariest night I’ve ever had”. Graham’s eyes shift to the scarred landscape that surrounds his property on all sides. The devastation that meets the eye makes it hard to forget: the hillsides are covered in the charred matchstick remains of a once dense forest fi lled with old cedar trees. Scanning the terrain, Graham’s wife Jennifer recollects how before the fi re, the forest cover was so dense they could neither see nor hear their neighbours or local traffi c. Asked if she has gotten used to it three years on, Jennifer shakes her head, “No. Still makes me feel sad”. Her sentiment is echoed in Graham’s lingering feeling of devastation wrought unnecessarily:

They just shouldn’t have burned that day. The winds howled seventy miles an hour that night and brought the fi re down through here. That’s not to say that the wildfi re would have gotten it anyway. But they didn’t help. I have plenty of training; been on a zillion fi res. You just don’t do that. (♂ CA Apr. 2011)

A feeling of helplessness fi lls the space between us on the porch. As he listened in on the radio communications that night from his position on the fi reline, the feeling of helplessness Graham felt as he heard the devastating orders to back burn, despite local advice of an imminent treacherous wind change, is indescribable. At one and the same time he was on home turf yet paradoxically neither at home nor in a position to act on a deep personal knowledge of the local terrain. For Graham it became the end of a long and much-loved fi re fi ghting career. The trauma planted a seed of distrust towards the ‘system’ charged with the responsibility of managing wildfi res in California.