The call came through at 5:00 am. Fire-fighter Joe gave final instructions to Marcus. Fire evacuation warnings continued broadcasting over radio stations. The air-conditioner struggled against the rising temperature. The smell of smoke hung in the air.
“Marcus, please be careful. Leave immediately you hear the evacuation orders. I’ll be praying for you.”
“You be careful too, Joe.”
The brothers had been through a lot together. They would get through this. Joe drove to headquarters where the other fire-fighters were ready to leave.
Fire raged through acres of trees like flaming torches exploding relentlessly throughout the day. Joe wiped his face on his sleeve. His fire retardant overalls clung to his overheated body. Perspiration trickled from beneath his helmet, stinging already reddened eyes. The mercury had crept above the forecast maximum by mid-morning and kept rising. Joe’s two-way radio crackled constant messages reporting enormous smoke clouds blanketing the city. Someone yelled to Joe above the roar of the fire. Joe turned to see his Captain approaching. He was stooped over covering his face with a filthy handkerchief.
“Joe, we have to move back.” He choked.
Joe whistled, motioning the crew back. One fire-fighter collapsed before reaching them. Joe raced over and assisted him to the tanker. The Captain handed out fresh water bottles and shouted instructions above the deafening roar.
“There’s a cross wind and we’re right smack in the middle of two fire walls. Houses are directly in its path but we won’t get there in time. Another crew was sent out an hour ago, no one’s heard from them since. We’ll head east toward the city. Let’s pray we can get there in time to help prevent the fire jumping the highway.”
“We have to get out of here first,” yelled one of the crew.
“We will.” Joe sent up a desperate prayer.
Flames blazed on both sides of the fire trail and smoke threatened to stall the engine. The five fire-fighters huddled closely in the three seater cabin. Joe didn’t expect anyone to ride on the back. Visibility was virtually zero. The Captain continued to drive blindly in the direction of the highway.
“Look out!” Joe yelled.
An eagle flew directly into the windscreen with a loud crack. The bird fell away smearing blood down the cracked glass.
“Turn left now.” Joe gave further directions onto the highway and they sped towards the city. Lights flashed and sirens screamed.
Teams of fire-fighters were flown in by military aircraft. Volunteers supplied sandwiches and drinks for the dehydrating men and women. Telephones were installed at base camp so fire-fighters and volunteers could be connected to loved ones. Joe could not contact Marcus. He prayed, remembering the tragic car accident that took the lives of their parents two years earlier. Marcus was fifteen at the time, Joe was twenty three. “Lord, please be with Marcus.”
Joe’s crew rested for an hour before relocating to a suburb southwest of the city. Their mission was to build a fire break and saturate everything. Most residents had already been evacuated. Working into the night Joe continued to pray. He was exhausted. Escalating smoke obscured the stars. Two more fire-fighters collapsed in the searing heat. His Captain was taken to hospital with third degree burns after the command vehicle exploded a few feet from him.
“When will it end, Lord?” Joe prayed, watching the ambulance drive away.
Around midnight on the second day the wind died. Joe lifted his face to heaven just as the rain came down.
The sun rose to reveal the devastation. Joe returned to headquarters. All that stood was the blackened concrete walls and a buckled door. There was nowhere to park the fire truck. His car had been incinerated where he left it three days before. He turned the truck around and drove slowly through the smouldering suburb towards what had once been his home. Houses everywhere were burnt to the ground. Vehicles were still burning. Families gathered to see what they could salvage but only smouldering ashes remained. At his address the smell of burnt losses lingered in the air. The radio transmitted news of forty houses destroyed. One fire-fighter was dead, two missing. His next door neighbour had been found dead from smoke inhalation.
“Lord, Where is Marcus?”
Joe looked out through the cracked windscreen to see Marcus rushing towards him. With a thankful prayer and tears in his eyes, he leapt down from the truck to embrace his brother.
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