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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 18:10 GMT
The Australian bush fires: Your experiences
Australian officials say the worst is over in the bush fires in New South Wales. But there is still concern with no further rain forecast.
In the past week, more than 100 fires have broken out in New South Wales, destroying at least 150 homes and an area of bush nearly twice the size of greater London.
Thousands of people have been evacuated from towns and villages since the fires began on Christmas Day.
Fire fighters have been hindered in their work by the searing heat and strong winds fanning the flames.
The authorities believe many of the blazes were deliberately lit.
Have you been affected by the fires in Australia? How are the authorities coping? Tell us your experiences.
This Talking Point is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I live on the South Coast of N.S.W., and although the rest of the State may be having a respite from the bush fires at the moment, we on the South Coast are still experiencing them worse than ever. It has been burning on the South Coast since Christmas Day, and just when it looks like the fire fighters have contained the latest blaze, the wind will pick up again and the fire fighters have a new battle on their hands. Since Christmas we have had the main Highway north to Nowra closed so many times I have lost count. Power and phones have been coming on and off just as frequently.
Through all this, everyone has been amazing. The fire fighters are doing an excellent job; those working behind the scene preparing food and organising bedding for those evacuated; business are donating food and medical supplies; the bus companies who are ferrying the evacuated people to safe places; the evacuates themselves, who are accepting that evacuation orders are the norm, and comply with instructions.
The entire Community on the South Coast has been wonderful during this crisis. The bush fires may have destroyed some houses, but it will never destroy the Aussie spirit. A friend of mine whose home was saved, but lost his sheds and some live stock commented after the fire had passed, "oh well I guess I won't have to mow the lawn for a while now".
To Dottie from North Carolina, Wollongong is still beautiful and to date unburnt. My daughter is going up there tomorrow if the roads are opened. There have been lots of fires around the Gong, but the City itself is OK, so 'no worries' from the Gong. To Gwen from New York, yes we have New Zealand and now American assistance with the arrival of the two new helicopters.
Thanks to all for your support and thoughts.
Anna, South Coast N.S.W. Australia
My thoughts and love are with you roos. I spent my Gap Year in Oz and one of the most amazing experiences was The Olympics. You made it so special with your pride, unity and friendliness. One day I will return and see that you have even managed to create a good situation out of this. I owe you Sydney-Siders a fair few slaps on the back for creating such perfect memories that bring a smile to my face every day. May you all be safe and sound and look after those animals for me. 'Good on ya' for being so resillient and for doing it with such intensity and persistence. Keep up those tough chins and may homes and the bush be once again re-stored to complete your 'country of dreams'.
Well the rain has come! For us here in Sydney anyway, south of us the fires still wreak havoc. The men and women who have given up their holiday and even risked their lives for the community should be and are indeed heroes! The fact that the Rural Fire Service is made up mostly of volunteers is a fact that makes their sacrifices and heroism all the more astonishing. We Salute You. Fire-fighters, Heroes All
I have spent the last 3 weeks in Sydney visiting my parents and I have been amazed by the Aussie spirit. The whole of the country has pulled together to help out the families threatened by the fires. The fire-fighters are an amazing bunch - they deserve our deepest gratitude and respect for how they have protected NSW from the fires. Without them, there would have been many more property losses and perhaps some lives as well. Well done to the Fireys - you are all heroes!
Having lived in Sydney for the last two and a half years, I must say that the spirit of the Australian people is a wonder to behold. Through fire and destruction, evacuation and loss, they continue to demonstrate a resilience and courage that defies the circumstances.
Without the assistance of water-bombing helicopters properties surely would have been lost. Only yesterday our crew had a lucky escape when a burning tree fell on power lines bringing them down above our crew. We haven't been out as long as some of the fire fighters from the Blue Mountains and South Coast who have put in mammoth 14 and 16 hour shifts for days at a time. Our thoughts are continually with our colleagues from the NSW RFS and NSW fire Brigades, NSW National Parks, SES, and fire fighters from Victoria, Queensland and South Australia and the NSW ambulance and police crews.
We would also like give our heart-felt thanks to all the residents of Sydney who have been so kind in their hospitality offering cold drinks, sandwiches and encouragement wherever we go. Your gift is worth far more than you could know.
Iżm 15 years old and live about 20 minutes away from the closest fire. The smoke is thick and it's all that you can smell when you step outside, and you get reminded of what's happening straight away. It's a tad harder to breath, and my eyes water from the smoke. This isn't the first time these fires have caused havoc, and I'm sure it wont be the last, but its the one that will stick in my mind the longest because it's closer to home. The smoke is unbelievable. But we will be alright.
The best fire fighters are working so hard, even on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, us Aussies will get through this, as we always pull together and in the end nothing beats the will power and thoughts of all the 19 million Aussies and people abroad. Thanks for all your support. It's greatly appreciated.
I live near the Dandenongs in Victoria, and like many Aussies living near the bush, have seen or heard of nearby bushfires nearly every summer, (some very close) usually due to some moron deliberately lighting a fire. I've had that marvellous helicopter dropping water in my street, and urge the federal government to purchase several of them, so that they are available for Victoria, NSW, South Australia, WA and Queensland. The cost of losing our homes, our wonderful volunteers, our cherished wildlife and flora in such devastating amounts is too high. I remember the fear on Ash Wednesday in the 1980's, I can only imagine what they are going through in NSW, with so many fires, raging out of control for so long.
Like the guy in Adelaide, we in Victoria are waiting for Summer to arrive. After a protracted drought we have had a lot of rain and unseasonably cold weather. Wish we could send it north.
While bushfires have been used naturally in this country to generate new growth, it is purely destructive to have so many at once. This land faces severe salinity problems, and requires more trees not less! On top of the loss of vegetation and animal life, the world suffers from these mindless acts as we all need trees to slow down global warming. Lock up those who deliberately start grass and bushfires and throw away the key! Best wishes to all the volunteers and those living with this tragedy in NSW.
My son was a study abroad student at the University of Wollongong from Feb to July, 2001. We came over and visited your beautiful country in June, 2001. We fell in love with Sydney, Wollongong, the Blue Mts. etc. Our hearts go out to everyone there who has lost their homes. I can remember how everyone was always saying "No worries", and we certainly hope that they still have that attitude! The University of Wollongong is in such a beautiful location and I hope that it was spared. Haven't read anything about it yet. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
This is mainly a response to Dottie of North Carolina, USA, who was concerned about the Illawarra region of New South Wales and how it has fared in these devastating fires.
I first saw the pall of smoke wafting out to sea from the Bulli Tops area on Christmas Day and little imagined what it was heralding. The far northern township of Helensburgh has been the worst hit of Wollongong's towns. The town was evacuated before the firestorm swept through so although no lives were lost, many homes and businesses went up in flames. Residents have since been allowed back, some to rebuild shattered lives.
In the immediate area of Wollongong and its outlying suburbs, I don't think any other houses were destroyed. The fires have mainly been all along the top of the Escarpment but haven't actually come over very far. Although residents in threatened areas such as Coledale, Wombarra, Austinmer, Mount Kembla and Calderwood were put on evacuation alert, the fires did not quite reach them. They have since receded back to the top of the Escarpment and further inland and now threaten the Appin, Picton and Camden areas. The Cataract Dam area has also been burnt.
Within hours of the brilliant fireman and volunteers putting out fires in those areas, arsonists lit several more. I think one was caught.
Wollongong Uni has not been in danger except, like the rest of the area, from the massive volumes of smoke which lay like a thick blanket for days as a reminder to us more fortunate souls of what some people were going through. Ash and blackened leaves were landing as far away as Warilla and on to the beaches all along the coast.
The current Illawarra hotspot is the township of Sussex Inlet, near Nowra, on the South Coast. It is this area where the huge American heli-tankers are currently deployed. "Elvis" and the newly-arrived "Georgia Peach" and "The Incredible Hulk" are proving their worth hundreds of times over. They are literally lifesavers but don't for an instant forget the other aircraft who have done so much as well. One crashed at Sussex Inlet a few days ago but the pilot was okay.
Maggie Creighton, Australia
Bush fires are all part of the natural processes, and while this year may be worse than usual and some of the fires may have been given a "helping hand" it is not destructive to nature, in fact it is essential to clear areas and allow new growth, and this process is critical to the health of the Blue Mountain ecology.
For those whose houses have been destroyed, I have some sympathy, but guys, you knew the risks when you decided to live there!
I've been watching the news coverage of the Sydney fires, and would like everyone that is affected in Australia to know that my heart goes out to you and I wish that the fires are put out soon. I cannot believe that those responsible could be as young as nine. It beggars belief! Where are the parents?
Peter Green, Australia
Having seen the destruction wild fires have caused in my area, my heart, thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected and to the people on the front lines fighting those fires. They've helped us a time or two, I hope we're able to return the favour!!
It's disgusting that these idle minds are able to endanger so many lives, properties and destroy so much wild life.
I suggest that they should punish the perpetrators and lock them up during times of high fire risk....
Clive Beaufoy, Australia
I live and work in the centre of Sydney. From my office I can see the waxing and waning of the smoke clouds as the real heroes of this Black Christmas, the volunteer bush fire brigades, quell the inferno, only to see it flare up in another place. May the Divine Reality guide and protect them.
We live near north Epping. We have had a huge number of choppers dumping water around us. Luckily our home is in a protected position but many of our friends down the road are not. I have seen flames from 30 metres away rip through the bush 15 metres high, sending embers up into the air spreading spot fires all over the place.
This is terrible.
The fires came to our Sydney suburb on New Years Day moving southeast from Pennant Hills. Thanks to the heli-tanker constantly spraying down a wall of water many homes were saved. Arsonists should face severe penalties for putting the wonderful firefighters lives at risk and causing so much heartache.
OL, Sydney, Australia
I just want to let everyone who has lost their homes know that they are in my prayers. Remember to be thankful for the small things. I remember when the Oakland Hills burned and many of my friends lost their homes. It was not until we graduated from high school six years later that they were able to return to their rebuilt homes. It is very hard to deal with losing the things that you work hard for in life but another blessing is always around the corner.
My heart sank when I heard of the fires and I'm praying to God for rain in the coming days.
I am an Australian living in South London. All my family and relatives live in NSW and along the south coast, up towards Port Macquarie to Lismore. My cousins live in Sydney and Nowra. We are devastated to hear of the bush fires and pray to God that the fires will be controlled soon and that no one else will loose their homes. It's hard to hear about it when I am so far away from home. There's very little news on the TV about the places affected, but the internet has helped and we can access pictures and try to understand how everyone must be feeling right now. We pray for rain and relief. Thinking of everyone there.
Craig Dennington, Gosford, Australia (expat)
My parents are staying with friends in the Blue Mountains, in Glenbrook. They rang me on Christmas day to say that the house opposite them was burning. A fireman then asked my dad to move his car - the tree he had parked under had caught fire.
I have just come back to the UK from Sydney. The smoke over the city is quite shocking. A news item on ABC amused me. The reporter suggested the smoke made Sydney appear more like London. As I look out on the azure sky over London I can assure Sydney-siders that there is no comparison. 50 years ago perhaps.
Having relatives in Queensland, my heart goes out to you all. I only wish that I could be there to give assistance where needed.
As a Sydney-sider living in the UK it is very hard to express what it is like to watch your home burn. My house is just two miles from the fires and although the media coverage is good, I find it slightly limited in detail. I am in contact daily with my family and so far everything is OK but my heart goes out to anyone who has lost their property through this tragedy.
I live in a western Sydney suburb just ten miles east of the Blue Mountains. For the past ten days I have awoken to a thick haze of smoke from bush fires. Our balcony is littered with burnt leaves and soot that settle as soon as I clean. Sydney's horizon all around is perpetually in shades of grey, brown, and black. We cancelled holiday trips to Canberra, Wollongong, and the Blue Mountains due to the fire. Although our home is safe I feel for the hundreds of unfortunate people whose properties are in the line of fire and the courageous firefighters who are doing a tireless job. The city and the state of New South Wales are not only at the mercy of fire, rain, and wind, but also vandals.
Living in Sydney just 15 kilometres from the fires hasn't been fun at all. I certainly feel for those whose homes are either compromised, have been damaged or have been destroyed by the fires.
Our local swimming pools have ash collecting in them and at times during the day smoke starts billowing through the air conditioning system, making it incredibly hard to breathe.
Visibility outside at some points during the day is reduced the just 50 metres, which is making it extremely hard for the authorities to see and battle the fires.
Not good at all - hope it is all over asap.
John Allen, Sydney
Most of us are well prepared to save our homes, we are supported by the fire authorities and thousands of volunteer firefighters from around Australia and now New Zealand.
It is so important not to vacate until the last minute. The biggest problem apart from the wind are those who just come for a look and get in the way.
Michael, Sydney, Australia
John Baldock, Australia
I am from Sydney and have been in the UK for the past two years. Having lived in the Blue Mountains in 1994 and then in Kurrajong area, my heart goes out to all the families facing this lastest drama. My family and I lost our home in the 1994 fires and were lucky not to have our other house burnt down in 1997. I can more than imagine what these people are going through and my thought are constantly with them and the brave firefighters. God bless.
I have watched the press reports from afar and know just what Sydney is like when this happens. A few things are for sure - the dedication of the volunteers (90% of the bush firefighters are volunteers) will once again earn the admiration of a grateful country. The time is long overdue for SEVERE penalties for arsonists (including those flicking cigarette butts out of car windows!). Bushfires are a fact of life in Australia's environment. Naturally ocurring ones are bad enough, let alone when some fool lights them for kicks, and puts lives, property and Sydney's beautiful flora and fauna at risk.
I live in Gosford on the Central Coast of New South Wales, which is just north of Sydney and we are also experiencing bushfires. I am quite concerned for my own property, even though it is not under immediate threat. I have seen many bushfires before and know how quickly they can travel. In any other season you would describe my house as being in idyllic leafy surroundings. However the bush (forests to you lot on the other side of the equator) is now giving me great concern. Not only am I surrounded by it but the ground cover i.e. dried leaves and branches, are an arsonist's dream, a simple lit match thrown on the ground will do the trick. Today I had the gutters of my house cleaned out. Dirty gutters full of old leaf matter is one of the ways fires can spread especially through burning embers taken on the hot dry wind. For readers to understand the enormity of the problem I will quote some figures from today's Sydney Morning Herald. Fires are presently burning across 367,000 hectares. The total area burnt out so far over the last week is 500,000 hectares (roughly two and a half acres to the hectare).
Dale Zweck, Australia
I am in Sydney some miles from the nearest bushfires but the air is full of smoke and the sun was - before dark - casting a red light over my garden. We all admire our brave firefighters and deplore arsonists.
I am lucky enough to be far enough inside the Sydney concrete jungle to be safe. The smoke hanging over the city and suburbs is terrible. I feel extremely sorry for those affected, and have tried to volunteer my help.
How anyone can cope with the guilt of being the arsonist behind these fires is beyond me. Sadly, under Australian law, all they get is a bit of counselling as punishment. They should be locked up, whatever their age.
I cry nearly daily as I read about the terrible Sydney fires. I was a parrot breeder, specializing in parrots indigenous to this area, for a good part of my life. I and my captive collection were once evacuated from our installation due to a forest fire. It was terrifying, even though all my birds were saved and we only suffered smoke damage. My heart is bleeding for the people of Sydney, but especially all the innocent wildlife that has been killed or injured.
I spend quite a bit of time on the internet 'visiting' other countries and it makes the world seem close, but right now Australia seems so far away. I have been watching the news reports about the fires and feeling very helpless. It seems that the firefighters are at the forefront once again. Does anyone know if they are getting help from other countries? My thoughts and prayers are with all the people in Australia.
Kevin Byrne, Australia
I am due to visit Sydney in six weeks time, and I find myself thinking: "Will there be much left to visit?" It seems ludicrous, but faced with more hot weather, strong winds, sixty foot flames and miles of fronts, it does seem like mission impossible. I had also planned to visit the Blue Mountains but now think it might be heartbreaking to see the devastation.
My daughter works in Sydney and is about two miles from the fire, but she has told me they have had no instructions about packing anything up just in case. Sounds a bit close for comfort to me!
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