Evan Harris rushes around his property preparing to minimize fire impact at Burragate, Australia, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, as a nearby fire threatens the area. Thousands of people are fleeing their homes and helicopters are dropping supplies to towns at risk of wildfires as hot, windy conditions threaten already fire-ravaged southeastern Australian communities. The danger is centered on Australia’s most populous states, including coastal towns that lost homes in earlier fires. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

2 Aussie wildfires merge into inferno; man seriously burned

A man suffered burns protecting a home near Tumbarumba in southern New South Wales

Two wildfires merged to form a massive inferno in southeastern Australia and a man suffered serious burns protecting a home, in a night of treacherous conditions during the nation’s unprecedented wildfire crisis, officials said Saturday.

Authorities were assessing the damage after firefighters battled flames fanned by strong winds through the night and lightning strikes sparked new blazes in New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s most populous states. Conditions were milder Saturday and forecast to remain relatively benign for the next week.

“In the scheme of things, we did OK last night,” said Andrew Crisp, Victoria’s emergency management commissioner.

New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters that officials were “extremely relieved” the fires were not more destructive overnight.

A man suffered burns protecting a home near Tumbarumba in southern New South Wales and was airlifted to a Sydney hospital in serious condition to undergo surgery, Fitzsimmons said.

Several firefighters received minor burns and one suffered shortness of breath, but they were not admitted to a hospital, he said.

ALSO READ: How to help the animals affected by Australia’s wildfires

With no heavy rain expected, the 640,000-hectare (1.58 million-acre) blaze that formed overnight when two fires joined in the Snowy Mountains region near Tumbarumba, close to the Victorian border, is expected to burn for weeks, officials said.

The fire crisis in Australia has killed at least 26 people, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched an area larger than the U.S. state of Indiana since September.

It also has brought accusations that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government needs to take more action to counter climate change, which experts say has worsened the blazes. Thousands of protesters rallied late Friday in Sydney and Melbourne, calling for Morrison to be fired and for Australia to take tougher action on global warming.

The protesters carried placards saying, “We deserve more than your negligence,” “This is ecosystem collapse” and “We can’t breathe,” referring to wildfire smoke that has choked both cities.

Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal and liquid natural gas. Australians are also among the worst greenhouse gas emitters per capita.

On Friday, thousands of people in the path of fires fled to evacuation centres, while some chose to ignore evacuation orders and stayed to defend their homes.

Evan Harris, who lives in the New South Wales rural village of Burragate, said police and fire crews told him he should leave his cottage because of the threat. He told them he wasn’t going anywhere.

Burragate was choked with smoke for several hours Friday and was directly in a fire’s path.

A fire strike team and several members of the Australian Army arrived to try to save properties, and they were prepared to hunker down in a fire station if the flames overran them.

In the end, the winds died down and so did the fire. But crews worry the flames will flare up again during a fire season that could continue for months.

Harris said he likes to live off the grid in his remote home, which is made from mud bricks. He has no electricity, instead using batteries to power the lights and a small wood burner to heat water. The cottage itself has a warm and cozy feel. And Harris feels like he has a point to make.

“If this house survives, I think it will be a bit of a wake-up call for people,” he said. “That maybe people should start building like this, instead of over-exorbitant houses.”

Harris prepared for the blazes by tacking sheets of iron over his windows and clearing the area around the house of grass and shrubbery that might have caught fire. He dug a hole away from the cottage to house his gas canisters.

Harris said he was disappointed in the environmental destruction and that people should be paying attention to the more sustainable way that indigenous Australians previously lived.

“This is a result of the human species demanding too much of the environment,” he said of the wildfires.

Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

Nick Perry, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Leak in WFP roof disrupts play during first day of Curling Championships

The first day of the BC Curling Championships sustained a disruption of… Continue reading

Opening ceremonies celebrate 2020 BC Curling Championships

The 2020 BC Curling Championships got underway in Cranbrook Tuesday, January 28,… Continue reading

Local athlete climbs to the top of the podium

Autumn Ewaskow finished in first place at a bouldering competition in Calgary last weekend

Council approves metal eagle sculpture at Harmony Park

A metal sculpture of an eagle will soon adorne Harmony Park alongside… Continue reading

2020 BC Curling Championships underway in Cranbrook

The 2020 BC Curling Championships are underway at Western Financial Place in… Continue reading

Feds preparing plane to fly Canadians out of Wuhan, once China gives OK

160 Canadians have asked for help to leave province at centre of coronavirus outbreak

John Horgan calls for end to ‘high-grading’ B.C. forests

Premier speaks to resource industry forum in Prince George

PHOTOS: Truck outside Victoria gets partially stuck in sinkhole

Municipal crews have since repaired water main and patched up hole

Police search north of Williams Lake prompts warning to residents to stay inside

Officers also warn drivers near Lynes Creek Road not to pick up pedestrians

60% of Canadian workers would take a pay cut for better mental health support: survey

Survey found 77% of workers would leave for better wellness initiatives

Runaway rail car reported on same B.C. train line as fatal 2019 derailment

CP Rail confirmed the incident happened on Jan. 14.

Southern resident orca L41 considered missing and feared dead

The orca was last spotted in August 2019 when photographed in western Strait of Juan de Fuca

‘I am so sorry’: Stolen Baby Bear statue reunited with Mama, Papa Bear in B.C. town

Culprit left it near the Henry Road roundabout in Chemainus with a note attached

‘Critically low’ caribou population prompts wolf cull in the Chilcotin

Itcha-Ilgachuz herd numbers down to 385, from 2,800 in 2003

Most Read