My boots were sinking into the melting road and my car told me it was 47 degrees Celsius at Millingandi when the 30 knot westerly faltered for a moment and swung to the east.
It was about 2pm, a few hours ago a grass and bush fire had ignited.
The whole state was prepared and in the Bega Valley hundreds of people, mainly volunteers, were on standby for just this sort of event.
The air was only slightly cooled by the change but it’s arrival signalled that the now 35 hectare fire eating and spotting its way towards Merimbula was about to focus its burning eye on the north.
A water bearing chopper flew four kilometre round trips between fire and Merimbula Lake, and heavy machinery was trucked in to build containment lines and later to protect property, a tactic that would be the key in the success of the fight to come.
The fire was blown back and forth for about half an hour, its plume whipping back and forth across the sky, before the change settled into a 30 kilometre blow from the east south east.
No-one really knew how strong the southerly would be but predictions suggested it could reach 90 kilometres.
Thankfully it didn’t get much beyond 30km, but its presence fuelled the fire and caused the smoke plume to darken and dominate the skyline, dwarfing the helicopter as it bucketed water on the fire ground and on infrastructure.
The fire began to ‘spot’ (where embers become airborne and carry the fire to new ground), first at 20 metres, then 100m, then 300m.
Spot fires can be ignited through airborne embers up to 20 kilometres away from a fire front.
Down on the lake front a few kilometres away, residents and business people were acting on their fire plans.
At the Merimbula Caravan and Holiday Park, the handful of campers were informed and relaxed even when the RFS evacuation messages came through at 3.02pm.
“NSWRFS EMERGENCY BUSHFIRE WARNING – 5km west of Merimbula, safest option to leave now if path clear. Check local radio, www.rfs.nsw.gov.au or 1800679737.
At Top of the Lake holiday units, manager Kris Mulch informed the owner but was unsure about leaving. I urged her to heed RFS’ advice and headed to the lake for some photographs.
Other residents headed to the lake, their children wearing lifejackets, with panting dogs in heel, and waited.
I had my radio tuned into fire control, a fire blanket in my car and about six litres of water.
When my radio, streamed through a phone, shut down because of the heat I too decided to leave.