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Living Lightly column

Fleeing from climate danger

By Alan Hewett and Joan Jones

We are climate change refugees. That of course is an exaggeration but has a semblance of truth.

My partner and I lived in the Indigo Valley for eighteen years on a 53 hectare property that had a covenant on the title to protect the native vegetation.

Although we were only 10 minutes from the Hume Freeway the property was relatively remote. No one put a gun to our head to move there. We enjoyed the solitude.

A year after we moved there we experienced a bushfire that swept in from Eldorado. We stayed and defended our house although the property took a hiding. We did not receive or expect any fire trucks to help us.

There was very little government assistance in those days although several environmental agencies and our own hard work helped to rehabilitate the land.

Over the years we gradually cut down trees around the house, sacrificing shade for safety, and established a large clear area around the house. We prepared meticulously for a fire we never thought we’d experience again.

Then in December 2015 on a 45 degree day another fire, roared in from Chiltern. We were advised it was too late to leave so again we defended our little house, taking shelter inside as the fire front hit.

Our precautions had saved us, but the property was devastated once more, not just the land but the native animals too. I suppose it was a microcosm of what has happened across Australia recently.

More government and community help this time but the emotional scars wouldn’t heal.

Last summer record heat waves and numerous dry lightning storms kept us glued to the emergency networks. Several times we evacuated. You simply cannot live like this so a decision was made to move into Wodonga.

This scenario will be played out many times before this summer is over. People will be making decisions to rebuild if they have lost their homes, but many will question if they really want to risk living in remote and rural areas now that climate change has magnified the danger of bushfires.

We left our property reluctantly but years of climate change denial and significant lack of action left us vulnerable. This summer has been described as unprecedented; policies and attitudes have to change.