As the flames hurtled toward artist Steve Harrison’s home in rural Australia last month, he made every effort to defend his property, powering up pumps and sprinklers in preparation for the approaching inferno. But when it came time to evacuate, the road had caught fire and the 67-year-old potter’s only option was to climb inside his kiln and wait for the blaze to pass. Miraculously, he survived.
“The fire was too big, too hot, too fast,” Harrison wrote on his blog. “I couldn’t get out.”
Fortunately, Harrison had built a makeshift kiln from fireproof ceramic fiber the day before. Faced with no other choice, he crawled inside with a bag of laptops and hard drives, a fire extinguisher, a fire blanket, and a bottle of water. The kiln, which keeps heat out, as well as in, offered lifesaving protection.
“I was in there for half an hour while the firestorm went over. It was huge, just glowing orange-red everywhere. Just scary. I was terrified,” Harrison told Australian news outlet ABC.
When the ceramicist emerged, his home was still standing, but the kiln shed, the kiln factory, and the wood shed, as well the pottery gallery storing the artist’s work, had burned to the ground.
“This was catastrophic,” an emotional Harrison told ABC. “You can see when you look around, there is just nothing left.”
Harrison and his wife, Janine King, have lived on their seven-acre property for 45 years. (She evacuated ahead of her husband.) Priding themselves on self-reliance and sustainability, they built solar-powered facilities themselves from recycled materials and handmade mud bricks, and live largely off their garden.
Their home is located outside the village of Balmoral in New South Wales. Much of the town was destroyed by the devastating Green Wattle Creek fire. Harrison and King have had to rebuild after fires on two other occasions. A GoFundMe started in their name has already raised more than $51,000, and Harrison estimates it will take a year to rebuild.
“Another fire will come back in the next decade, and next time it will be worse. I need to start preparing now,” he wrote, adding that he plans to rebuild using entirely metal. “The global heating crisis is going to keep on getting worse. Each fire is getting bigger, hotter, more devastating, lasting longer.”
Harrison’s harrowing ordeal took place on December 21, but fires are still raging across Australia a month later. The unprecedented intensity of the brushfires is widely seen as evidence of a growing crisis sparked by climate change.
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