When I was a girl in New Zealand, the smell of smoke burning meant either Dad was having a burn off off some grass cuttings in our back yard which tended to be most Saturdays. Including the one on my wedding day he struck up near the window where I'd hung my wedding dress. The smell of smoke also reminds me of cold winters early evenings with fires lit ready for settling in for the night as the frosts settled crisply on the grass.
The smell of smoke had nice, comforting associations, of home, of homeliness.
But then I moved to Australia in the middle of a long draught and the smell of smoke suddenly turned sinister. And the "what to do in the event of an earthquake" in the inside cover of NZ's Yellow pages, were replaced curiously with "What to do in the event of a bush fire" in Australia.
Living beside a national park and the smell of smoke in the air always made us catch our breath a moment until we realised the smoke was burning in a far off national park. Which made us catch our breath a little more to think what kind of fire must be burning for the smoke to reach us.
One Saturday, in 2009, not long after we arrived in this country, we watched in disbelief and horror as lives were lost in the most terrifying situation with fires racing faster than those who tried to run, could run. A normal Saturday doing normal Saturday stuff were suddenly consumed with tragedy for many.
Parts of my city are burning tonight. It's been a hot and windy day. It's early September. It's too early. We can see a smokey haze in the air, the smell of smoke is thick and our sunset was orange. The predictions are bad for this summer with all the signs pointing in the wrong direction. Suburbs are burning, fires are crossing roads, 15 metre high flames are hungrily chasing dry grass and scrub. And amongst it, houses are burning, and hero's are trying to stop it.
This is Australia and this is what the smell of smoke means.
If you're at risk of fire tonight or tomorrow or this summer, be safe.