We’d been anxious to begin our first attempt at international house sitting in Fiji, but we never expected our first full day would be spent defending the property from a bush fire.
We really couldn’t believe our luck when we landed our first gig house sitting in Fiji, of all places! What a marvelous way to kick off our plan to spend two years traveling the world! We had bonded right away with the homeowners in conversations conducted over the internet. They’d walked us around the property via Skype and it looked spectacular. Plus, we couldn’t wait to meet “the girls” – Dobermans Benny and Bella – who would be in our care.
Arriving in Nadi, Fiji, we spent a pleasant couple of days at a Wailoaloa Beach hotel owned by our homeowner’s aunty, a real character. This was just the transition we needed to rest up after the whirlwind of last-minute preparations and emotional goodbyes on Kauai. When the homeowners arrived to pick us up for the trip to Sigatoka, we were ready for the hour-long drive along the southwest coast of the main island, Viti Levu.
Viti Levu has been experiencing drought conditions for months. At the Nadi hotel, we were surprised to see clumps of ash in the swimming pool and smoldering fires in the hills. It’s common practice to burn sugar cane fields to prepare them for planting, but dry bush sometimes spontaneously combusts or is helped along by trash burning, carelessly-tossed cigarette butts, or airborne embers, too. As we drove down the Queen’s Highway (which circles the rim of Viti Levu), we observed other fires burning in the distant highlands, and evidence of previous bush fires closer to the road. Deforestation, beginning with sandalwood harvesting by the British in the 19th century, and continuing today by various commercial mahogany interests, continues to create serious consequences in Fiji.
The home we are house sitting in Fiji is a hilltop compound in Korotogo, a residential suburb located east of larger Sigatoka town. The two communities are located adjacent to Fiji’s first national park – Sigatoka Sand Dunes – along the famed 50 mile long Coral Coast. This is the birthplace of Fiji tourism, with a large reef protecting sandy beaches from the pounding surf beyond, and a unique eco-system providing habitat for marine life, birds and reptiles. Our biggest neighbor is the world-renowned 5-Star Outrigger on the Lagoon Resort, with over 40 acres along the beach and up into the hills adjacent to our homeowners’ property.
Our homeowners left for their other place in Australia after a quick day getting us acclimated – we needed to learn about the dogs’ feeding and habits, how to operate the appliances (oh, Bosch dishwasher, how I love you!), the water collection system (large tanks and pumps) and the emergency power supply – and we began to settle in. We’d originally planned to take the bus into Sigatoka (you can catch a variety of conveyances just standing by the side of the road with a quick downward hand signal) town for shopping, but felt a bit lazy. The beautiful views of the ocean were captivating, and one of the dogs was a bit mopey after their departure. Turns out it was a good thing we stuck around.
Very quickly, it seemed, a fire started up below the ridge line at the rear of the property. Since a fire had come dangerously close to the front driveway earlier in the week, we went on alert. At first, we only saw a couple of individuals in golf carts monitoring the blaze. Later we learned they were staff from the Outrigger, whose perimeter buildings all have thatched roofs. One little cinder could cause a huge disaster over there. I decided to catch the events on video while Pete hosed down a perimeter break.
When things began to flare up a little more ominously, we decided it was time to call the Fire Brigade. It was clear by their behavior that they were old hands at this. I was happy there was access for the truck up the steep slope.
We decided this was a case of wanting the fire to come close, in order to protect against future burning, but not too close.
This fire wanted to have its way with the dried vegetation. Pretty soon, the manager of the Outrigger strode over to introduce himself. He’d been on our “must meet” list, but we didn’t anticipate the introduction to go quite this way!
Pete decided to water down the hillside perimeter of the property, as well, after the fire up top was contained and the light began to fade.
The next day, we made our way into Sigatoka for shopping as planned, only to arrive back in Korotogo and see flames behind several houses down the street. Nothing was going on when we got to the house, but later in the afternoon, things took a turn for the worse.
Bella, one of the Dobermans, sounded the alarm. Good girl! When I got behind the house, I could see flames close to the fence, and there was no time for photography, thankfully. Just picture in your mind: me in only a sarong and Pete in his board shorts frantically keeping things at bay. We could barely breathe in the smoke, and ash threatened the rest of the property. Never have I been so grateful for metal roofs, but I was extremely concerned about the heat affecting the huge water tanks at the back of the property.
So, there we were with mis-matched hose couplings and surging water pressure adding to the fun! Can I just say how much I hate these hose couplings? I am not strong enough to snap them together under ideal conditions, and we had two different kinds contributing to regular fails. All I could think of was our first time house sitting in Fiji would have us literally going down in flames. This was not a comforting thought.
Finally after what seemed eons, but was really probably only about a couple of hours, things died down. We’d run the hose through the fence to wet down the Outrigger’s property line of trees, some of which were badly singed. If those had burned, I might be telling a different story today. Still, it was a restless night spent wondering if the smoke we smelled was residual or from a fresh burn, and if the sounds we were hearing was merely the wind in the trees and not the crackling of flames nearby.
Paradise isn’t perfect, we were fond of saying in Kauai. Mother Nature’s force should never be taken for granted. In our first few days of house sitting in Fiji, we were baptized by fire!