By Abigail Roberts
Approximately 530 or more homes, over 1.6 million hectares of land and six lives have been tragically lost to the NSW bushfires this year. The 2019 bushfire season has claimed a new record of the highest portion of land burnt in the last 25 years. A specific case was on the 9th of November, in which a man was found inside a burnt car, with a woman who also died from severe burns to almost 50% of her body.
These stories are truly heartbreaking and unfortunately a reality, with fires affecting so many communities across Australia, especially those from Northern areas of Sydney who we may know personally. Towns, such as Port Macquarie, have experienced red skies and truly devastating threats during this frightening bushfire season. It has been reported that, “we have never had this many fires at emergency level,” according to Shane Fitzsimmons who stated that on the 10th of November, there was a rapid and uncontrollable spread of fires which prevented the RFS reaching everyone in need of help, outlining the true threat of this crisis. Suspicious fires have been set alight in response to the natural fires, and hundreds of schools have been closed. Fast winds, high temperatures and drought have furthered the threat and extent of damage of such fires. Furthermore, this crisis will be remembered in Australian history, and outlines the growingly harsh nature of Australia's climate and natural disasters.
I myself was rather ignorant about the true emergency of bushfires across the state, whether arson or naturally inflicted, and I previously did not understand what everyone was worrying about. As I sat at home ignorantly, I was convinced by the belief that such fires could never impact me, or anyone I knew. I was watching television, and at around 4:30pm I heard sirens and sensed something was wrong, so made my way to the top of the street. But what I saw that moment was certainly something that won’t leave my mind. A black cloud of smoke, as large as two houses, the same cloud that my friend could see all the way from West Pymble, was engulfing the large bush that is separated by a thin road and the houses on the street, including mine.
The smoke (left) created by a wall of flames (taken from above), which was eliminated by a plane dropping fire retardant that covered houses in pink
The cloud would be enough to suffocate anyone in its way instantly and was coming closer and closer, before I saw the flames which catalysed this cloud. The were flames coming closer and closer towards the thin road. In shock and disbelief, I ran as fast as I could and called and called my Mum, yelling, “there’s a fire! the fire’s coming, it’s coming,” unable to talk clearly. A man driving past told me, “the fires getting closer, you need to leave, it’s really bad,” but alone without a car I was unsure of where to go, in the case that the fire spread across the street.
My brother then happened to get off the bus nearby, and ran to save our valuables, before I did the same, knowing this was the most dangerous thing I could have done as the fire was spreading and could have easily reached our house in seconds. However whilst gathering my laptop and various photos, I heard people frantically banging at my door and when I opened it they held up police ID cards and shouted, “you need to get out of the house right now! How many people are inside?” The police took me to the front of my house and we got into a car, but my brother was still inside collecting my Mum’s jewellery. The two police frantically got into the car after me without my brother and I shouted, “my brother’s inside you need to get him!”
However, luckily after a few seconds my brother arrived and we got into the car and drove halfway down the street, away from the fire, as fire trucks blasted and blocked the street. The police dropped us only halfway down the street however afterwards we were unable to find our Auntie who was on her way to collect us before our parents could arrive. Little did we know, my auntie was unable to collect us as the police prevented cars from getting through to our street so we walked barefoot to her house.
A photo I took of the smoke approaching our house after being evacuated by police
After waiting at my Auntie’s house my parents arrived, and we heard the news after a few hours that the fire had been put out and our house was safe – which was certainly a relief. A few hours later, we arrived back to our street which was now covered by pink fire retardant and many journalists who were desperate for a story, as well as hundreds of exhausted firefighters with blackened faces.
Many volunteers by the nearby Sikh temple gave us, as well as the firefighters, dinner and water which was extremely kind of them. My mum was quoted in the same newspaper which my grandmother in England happened to read, as well as many other news companies all over the world. Most news reports and articles were about these South Turramurra bushfires as well as those in the North for the next few days, and I was interviewed by the ABC the following morning.
The firefighters with blackened faces, one of many news reporters, the generous people who provided food and water for firefighters and residents and the ABC interviewing me the following morning.
A few days later, myself and my Dad walked through the remains of the burnt bush and at the end of the walk, found police tape which surrounded the gasoline can and newspaper which likely began the fires – a very simple yet haunting image.
Gasoline can and burnt newspaper – the origins of the fire
Overall, I have learnt that these fires can impact anyone and we must stay cautious in the bushfire season - such as observing the warnings of our local areas. Especially, we must consider those who have lost their lives or homes, firefighters risking their lives to save others, volunteers, and finally the detriment of these fires to the environment.
To donate to evacuees and fire fighters, you can donate to the Salvation Army Disaster Appeal: https://www.salvationarmy.org.au/donate/make-a-donation/donate-online/?appeal=disasterappeal
You can also donate to the Red Cross which assists communities impacted by bushfires, as well as The St Vincent de Paul Society which provides food, money, emotional support and other essentials needed for victims as well as accommodation: