Monday, September 19, 2011

Way more excitement than we needed

So, at 2:15 Friday morning, Laurel and I were woken up by some strange noises. It sounded like really loud firecrackers, or thunder but it felt wrong. Also, the kitties were sitting bolt straight and staring in the direction of our bedroom window. Animals always know something is wrong first. Our house faces south, and the way our house is designed is that the master bedroom is at the front of the house with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. We got up to investigate, pulled back the curtain, and saw this.

No, seriously. We could see this from our window. We are in no way exagerrating. As we watched, we heard, and felt the windows rattle, as more explosions went off, sending HUGE fireballs up into the night sky, some of which were lost in the plumes of black smoke. Not what you want to see first thing in the morning. We stared and watched dumbly for a few minutes, and then we noted that the flames were getting bigger, which from our angle of view made us think, mistakenly, that the flames were actually coming in our direction. Laurel was a champion, and made the key decision that it was time to get out of dodge. Here is an overhead depiction of just how freaking close we were to this inferno. It's pobably less than a kilometer (or approximately half a mile) as the crow flies.

We live in the suburb of Franklin, which is a relatively new residential area. Directly south of us is Mitchell, which is an old industrial area. Cement plants, scrapyards, and apparently, at least one chemical storage facility. Or at least there used to be a chemical storage facility. Mitchell was built where it was because 30 years ago, there was nothing else even remotely close. The Canberra city center was 10 kilometers south and then there was empty space. If there was any kind of industrial accident, no worries, no one lives out there anyway. Cut to today where Canberra is urban sprawling like crazy, and now people live right next to it. People like us.

So, we are both standing there watching the increasingly large explosions and flames when Laurel makes the call that its time to leave, the sooner the better. Greg would have continued to stand there and watch the flames for waaaaaaaay too long. So we quickly grabbed our ID documents, wedding album (which in the chaos was prombptly left on the dining room table, laptop, a few clothes and toiletries, and threw the kitties in the carriers and put them in the car. They were not pleased. While we were doing this Greg talked with a co-worker who also lives in Franklin and his boss who lived across town and it was decided we would all be going to her place. 

Oh, and we were also dogsitting for our neighbor who was back in the States. Of course, right? We had the two cats in their carriers in the back seat, Luna immediately peeing all over herself in panic (lovely smell), the two of us in the front seat, each holding a dog on our lap; probably violating at least 6 traffic ordinances. We drove off, not quite sure if we were going to be seeing the house again. Laurel's boss now refers to our car as Noah's Ark. Here is the smoke plume from the ongoing fire by the light of day.

When we got to my boss' house, we found out more about the fire. Apparently it had started around midnight, but it got bad around 2 am when things started blowing up. To make things better, the police weren't entirely sure on what all was being stored at this chemical storage facility, so they were not quite sure if there were toxic gases being pumped into the atmosphere. Awesome. Everyone within a ten kilometer radius was advised to stay indoors and turn off all heating and air conditioning, as that would pull in air from outside into the house. To help alert area residents the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) government sent a mass text message to everyone living in one of the affected suburbs. They really should have checked their spelling and grammar first, though. Here's a screenshot. This has been the subject of many, many jokes, and I think there's actually going to be some kind of government inquiry; its kind of embarrasing.

We were at my boss's house all night, and the first thing we did was wash the urine off my cat- definitely not something Greg ever thought he would be doing. After a very long, sleepless night word started coming through that the fire was contained (but still not out) and atmospheric tests showed no toxic chemicals in the air. Phew! With little else to do, we went to work, leaving the pets at Greg's boss' house. That night the all-clear was given and we were able to go home. Everything turned out fine. The finally got the fire out that evening, or maybe everything that could burn had by then.  The fire seemed to burn straight up, so not much else other than the original site was burned, but it burned so hot the authorities doubt they'll ever be able to exactly determine the cause of the fire.

Here is a picture one of Laurel's co-workers sent around purporting to be a picture of the Mitchell Fire. It got a pretty good laugh from everyone.

Lastly, here is a youtube video of the explosions. Judging from the angle we are pretty sure that this was taken from the Hoskins - Wells Station Drive traffic cricle (see above map) which meant we drove by this idiot as we were evacuating. We probably commented on him being a dumb idiot who was going to get incinerated for a video. My apologies, sir (or maam), and I appreciate you potentially sacrificing your life for the sake of a video we've co-opted for our blog page.

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