Ash threatened to gag her with each breath she took but Faith continued to sniff the charred ground around her. The smell of burnt flesh occasionally assaulted her nostrils and smouldering debris quickened her steps. Small puffs of smoke drifted upward here and there. It was a dismal aftermath.
‘Mind your paws, Faith,’ Ken’s voiced in a raspy whisper. He cleared his throat before continuing. ‘I don’t think there’s anything out here but death,’ he added and knelt on one knee beside the burnt carcass of a small wallaby.
Faith nuzzled Ken’s elbow. He lifted his arm and drew her near. There’s always life after a fire. We just have to keep looking. With her head held low she continued her search.
Ken’s radio crackled to life. ‘Hey you guys. Did you find anything?’
‘Not yet, Chief. Mandy and Steve are searching along the creek then up to Wattle Road. Faith and I are moving in the same direct along the top of the ridge. Hopefully, we can cover more ground this way without walking right past any life. The air is still thick in places. Oh, and there’s been a few spot fires we had to extinguish too. I’ll check in when we meet up with the other two.’
‘OK, Ken. I know it’s not the best job but someone has to do it. Later.’
‘Come on, Faith. Let’s get moving.’
Faith thought about the conversation Ken had with his fire fighter friend Joe earlier today. Poor Joe. He found that old man in that burnt-out shed this morning. Not much left of him. Faith shuddered. Counselling, Chief had told him. I think I would need it too. A high-pitched whistle broke into her dismal thoughts.
Looking around, Ken whistled back. Faith’s ears pricked up and shifted back and forth. The whistle came again and they both turned toward the sound in a hurried walk.
‘What’s up,’ Ken shouted as they approached two figures slumped over a mound on the ash covered ground.
‘Looks like a backpack but there’s no one around here,’ Steve said. ‘At least not in the ten-metre circle we’ve searched.’
‘It could have been here for months,’ Mandy added poking at the pack with her fire fighter’s axe. ‘We can take it back for further investigation.’
The guys nodded in agreement and continue toward the road that was just within their hazy vision. Faith led the way with her head close to the ground. No one spoke until they stopped in the middle of the deserted street. They all walked slowly in a small circle just staring. Three burnt-out cars smouldered on the side of the road. They appeared to have been heading north out of harm’s way. Ken approached the closest vehicle and peered inside before moving to the other two. Faith stayed by his side.
‘Well, at least the occupants seemed to have escaped,’ Ken said to no one in particular. He removed his hat and wiped his sweating brow with the sleeve of his filthy jacket.
‘This has been a day of deaths and sadness,’ Steve said quietly. ‘Down right depressing it is.’
Steve and Mandy dowsed what flames they could. Dark puffs of dark clouds formed and died above the cars.
Faith began to walk in circles sniffing the ground.
Ken crouched on the warped bitumen. ‘What is it, Girl?’
She barked and headed up the road with Mandy, Steve and Ken following close behind.
Most of the houses on both sides of the road were burnt out; some still burning.
‘Anyone here?’ Ken shouted.
‘Hello’, Mandy and Steve called in unison.
Silence. Except for the crackling of nearby flames and the shifting of rubble, it was eerily quiet.
‘We’ll split up. Faith and I will check out these two houses. Mandy, Steve, take those two,’ Ken pointed across the road opposite the burnt-out cars. ‘Don’t go in unless you see someone…but call for us first.’ He removed Faith’s lead. ‘I’ll call for you if we find anything.’
Steve nodded. ‘All right. Be careful, Ken.’
Faith looked up from the steps she had been sniffing to see Ken jog through the charred remains of the front gate. Nothing here….or is there? With ears twitching back and forth she listened.
‘Hear anything.’ He stood beside her and waited.
She wagged her tail and proceeded to circle the entire house before returning to Ken and looked up. Nothing. Let’s go. She bolted through the side fence while Ken took the long way around.
The second house revealed nothing as well. They returned to find Mandy and Steve putting out spot fires near an outdoor BBQ and gas bottle. ‘Nothing?’ Ken asked.
‘Nope,’ Steve sighed.
Faith’s ears snapped to attention. There it is again. Something…
She looked over her shoulder at Ken and woofed.
The three followed her around to the rear of the house to what appeared to be a workshop or garden shed. As they neared the opened door they heard a faint cry. Faith was nudging a shelf that had collapsed.
‘Let’s see what we have here,’ Ken said quietly. Faith moved out of his way and sat beside Mandy who patted her gently.
‘Oh my. How did you get stuck in there? Steve, give me your rake.’
Steve obliged and placed his fireman’s rescue rake into Ken’s hand.
A few minutes later Ken stood up with something in his hand.
‘A flower pot?’ Mandy gasped.
Ken turned the pot around to reveal a little bundle of fur. A kitten, to be exact.
Faith whimpered and Ken placed the kitten, still in the pot, under Faith’s nose.
She gently licked the ball of fluff. Hi cutie. I’m sure glad Shield is spending the day in training. He’d eat you alive.
‘Smart dog,’ Steve finally reacted and moved outside with the others close behind.
The three fire fighters laughed. Faith barked. The Kitten meowed. Their depressing mood had suddenly been lifted. Mandy took out her water bottle and removed her glove. The kitten lapped from her opened hand.
Just above the commotion the chief’s voice was heard. ‘Hey, what’s happening out there? We haven’t heard anything for some time. What’s happening, Ken?’
Ken handed the kitten over to a jubilant Mandy. ‘We’re fine Chief,’ he yelled. ‘You won’t believe this.’
The cheering rose and Faith jumped up and down barking excitedly.
‘Everything’s OK, Chief. We found a kitten. He’s alive!’ Again, cheers went up.
The chief responded with a chuckle. ‘I’m glad for you guys. It’s been a depressing day. Oh, and another search and rescue team found a backpacker. He’s all right. He was dazed and wondering around. Says he lost his backpack in the fire somewhere by the river.’ He paused. ‘Return to headquarters. I think you all need a break.’
‘See you soon, Chief. We’re bringing in the kitten. Mandy’s already named it.’ He laughed. ‘Lucky, I think. We also have the backpack. Hope that makes the owner’s day. Over and out.’
Faith bounded over to Ken at his call. Let’s go home.
© Chrissy Siggee – 2019