How Elvis Fought the Bushfire

In my last post, I told you how we used to live in a back-to-front house. This house faced a paddock. And in the paddock were lots of cows.

We loved watching those cows. They'd move slowly nearer and nearer to our house, munching the grass along the way.

One spring morning, we looked out of our window expecting to see cows and saw something far more exciting. Too exciting. It was a bushfire.

The fire was charging across the paddock eating up everything in its path. We could see the fire front moving parallel to our house. Its red flames were rearing high into the sky, igniting the trees in its path. As we watched, a water-bombing helicopter appeared through the smoke. It was Elvis, the Erickson Air-Crane. It dumped its load of water, slowing the progress of the fire, and then swung round and retreated. We assumed it was off to refill its tanks.

We ran outside to the garden and peered over the fence at the flames. Our neighbours, John and Patty, joined us. John had a mobile phone pressed to his ear. "He's speaking to his mother," explained Patty. "Her house is in the path of the fire." Everyone's eyes were glued to the fire.

A few minutes passed and then John took the phone from his ear. "The house is gone." He slumped against the fence post. "There's nothing they can do. They're running for safety." We looked at each other. We looked at the fire. We didn't know what to say. We bit our lips. We tried not to cry.

Later, on that smoke-filled day, John knocked on our door. "My mother's house..." He smiled.  "At the very last moment, they saved it. A load of water from Elvis... Everything around the house is burnt to the ground but it's okay."

What wonderful news! Elvis had saved the day. Our mood changed instantly. We all grinned.

That bushfire swept through our paddock on November 10th 2002. I remember the date because that's our son Thomas' death day. We had trouble getting to the cemetery that evening because of road closures due to the fire.

In chapter 18 of The Angels of Abbey Creek, the Angel family visits Granny. Soon after they arrive, Lizzie looks out the living room window of Granny's back-to-front house and she sees a fire charging across the paddock. It's very much like our fire.

Once Dad is sure Granny's house is safe, he decides he'd better drive his family back to their village. He hopes they don't meet the bushfire on the way. And they don't. But they do see where it has been.

“Look at that!” exclaims Dad, pointing to a house surrounded by black ash. “The fire must have come right up to the front door. That water bomber helicopter must have saved the house. I bet a load of water was dropped just in time.” The firefighters have saved other houses too. It all seems rather remarkable..."

Our firefighters are magnificent people. If it wasn't for their bravery and skill, our home would have burnt down in another bushfire two years ago. But that's another story!

I don't have any photos of the fire which roared through our paddock. It all happened too quickly. We didn't think of grabbing our cameras. But I did find a short Youtube video showing Elvis filling its tanks (it takes 45 seconds) and then dropping its load of 9500 litres of water.

So why is the water bombing helicopter called Elvis? It gained this name after working for the United States National Guard in Memphis, where singer Elvis Presley lived for most of his life.

How did we get our name? I don't really know but it has nothing to do with Elvis Presley!

I wonder if your home has ever been in danger. Have you ever seen a bushfire? Or perhaps you've faced severe storms or an earthquake or another natural disaster?

Sue Elvis

Australian blogger, author, podcaster and unschooling mother


  1. We live is in a very peaceful part of the world, The worst thing we experience is powerful storms, able to tip over trees and make floods, but not normally to really ruin a house. Our eartquakes feel like a big lorry passing, and our snowstorms are pretty.
    But I have been driving through a bushfire in Sudan, Africa, a long time ago, it was quite dramatic with fire, smoke, and animals running for their life (think Bambi-like scenes) A small antelope ended its life under our wheels. The driver - not me - cut it up immedately we were out of the fire, hanging by its hind legs in a tree, and we ate it for dinner.

    1. Uglemor,

      You have had some big adventures! A bushfire in Sudan? I wonder what you were doing in Africa. Were you working or on holiday? I can imagine the animals running for their lives. Our animals do that too, but of course we have different animals to those in Africa. No antelope! Did you outrun the bushfire or did you have to remain in the car while it passed over you. I think that would be very frightening. I like how you calmly state you ate the antelope for dinner as if that was quite a normal thing to do. Perhaps it was for the driver!

    2. PS. I love hearing how the stories from your live is transformed into your Angels books. Do keep on doing this, it is a great way of re-telling your stories.
      Africa was a study trip. We drove through the outshirts of the bush fire in a truck, it wa s not that scary - I think we were young and "immortal". And yes as the driver was a native African, I think it was normal for him to eat the antelope. We were very hungry, so no one objected. Som of us tried to help the driver, but we only got in his way, and were sent sleeping while he prepared the meal.

    3. Uglemor,

      A study trip? I'm sorry but I'm going to ask another question. What were you studying? Languages? No sense in wasting a good antelope especially as you were hungry!

  2. You had me on the edge of my seat with this Sue. What a relief that John's mom's house was saved! And what a landmark day---Nov, 2, 2002, you described.

    We've never had our home in danger, really...the closet was Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Bc hurricanes typically approach from the south and we live close to the north shore of Long Island, ( yes it's hard to believe we actually live ON an island! ) we 're sort of "protected" from their brutality. Many homes on the south shore of LI are still being rebuilt and legions of ppl are still without homes from Sandy in Oct 2012. It's not really "news" anymore here, but we know of ppl who are still displaced and have lost SO much. It's gorgeous there on and near the beach, but it can be dangerous in these brutal storms!

    I always enjoy a glimpse of the Elvis life when I come over, Sue...thank you! xoxoxoxoxo

    1. Chris,

      I've never experienced a hurricane. I've seen pictures of people on the beach during high winds, not heeding warnings to take cover. I'd be too frightened to stay outside!

      I googled Long Island and looked at some maps and photos. What a beautiful place to live! Do you travel frequently to the mainland or is there everything you need on the island?

      I've having fun telling some family stories while I write these posts. Thank you so much for sharing them! xxxx

  3. That was scary to read, but so glad your mother in law's house was spared in that fire. Amazing how Elvis can fill up so quickly! So glad for technology and machinery like that to help fight fires and keep people and property safe.

    When we lived in Southern California there was always the danger of wildfires especially when the Santa Ana winds would come and it was so dry and hot. We were luckily spared and never had a fire very close to us but I remember many a day with ash and smoke in the air.


    1. Betty,

      I was also amazed at the speed the air crane fills its tanks. Oh yes, what would we do without all the machines and equipment to fight the fires? Every village here has its own fire truck and equipment and there are fundraisers to make sure there is money to keep it all up-to-date. We wouldn't survive summer without our trucks and the courageous firefighters.

      I've seen footage of the Californian wildfires on TV. The ash and smoke travel a long way, don't they? I really love how disasters like fire draw us all together. I know our firefighters and equipment have travelled to your country in times of emergency and yours have done the same

      Thanks for sharing!