Australian Navy begins rescue of people trapped by bushfires

Robie de Guzman   •   January 3, 2020   •   328

Sydney, Australia – The Australian Navy on Friday began sea evacuations of thousands of people trapped by bushfires which have been burning out of control in southeast of the country and killed at least 19 people since they started in September.

The operation seeks to rescue around 4,000 residents and tourists stranded for days at a beach in Mallacoota, in the state of Victoria, where authorities confirmed the death of a second victim, while at least 28 people remain missing.

“The evacuation operation at #Mallacoota has begun with the first group of people being transferred into Choules and MV Sycamore for relocation to Western Port, Victoria,” the Royal Australian Navy tweeted, along with photos of one of its ships surrounded by smoke, with a red sky in the background.

On Thursday night Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews had declared a state of disaster for a period of a month in six areas affected by the fires, and warned of catastrophic conditions in the eastern parts of the state, where temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius are expected on Saturday.

The disaster declaration was established in 2009 after the “Black Saturday” fires in Victoria, which killed 173 people in what is considered the worst nature-related disaster in Australia.

“Essentially this declaration is the first time these powers have been used because we face unprecedented risk to life and property in coming days,” Andrews said in a statement.

In the neighboring state of New South Wales — the worst affected by the bushfires — thousands of people were attempting to flee the affected areas in the southern coast ahead of Saturday, and the region witnessed chaotic scenes and traffic congestion on Friday.

The NSW police confirmed the death of a 72-year-old man, which took this week’s bushfire death toll in the country to 10, with eight of the deaths being registered in NSW where the fires have destroyed 1,365 houses, including 449 since the start of 2020.

The raging bushfires have led to rising popular discontent against Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was criticized for holidaying in Hawaii two weeks ago in the middle of the crisis.

Video footage showed residents’ anger towards the prime minister during his tour of affected areas on Thursday, with some people refusing to shake hands with him and others calling him an idiot.

Groups of university students are set to carry out marches in different cities of the country on Friday to call for more funds to be assigned to firefighters and stricter measures against climate change. EFE-EPA

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Roads flooded as heavy rains dampen Australian bushfires

UNTV News   •   February 7, 2020

Vehicles struggled through flooded roads on Friday (February 7) as the biggest rainfall in almost 20 years drenched Australia’s wildfire-ravaged east coast, dousing the blazes and providing welcome relief to farmers battling an extended drought.

The downpour came with its own risks – officials warned of flash floods and landslides across New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populous state – but was generally greeted jubilantly after months of devastating bushfires.

The deluge had the effect of calming the number of active fires in NSW by 20 in a single day, a success rate that NSW RFS said it was “over the moon” about.

Around 11.7 million hectares of Australian wilderness have been razed by a series of huge wildfires since September that have also killed 33 people and more than a billion animals. The horrific extended bushfire season has followed a three-year drought across the country. (Reuters)

(Production: Kevin Donnellan, Louisa Naks)

Firefighting plane crash kills 3 in Australia

UNTV News   •   January 23, 2020

Workers try to put out a bushfire behind a row of factories near West Queenbeyan, Australia, Jan.23, 2020. EFE-EPA/MICK TSIKAS AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

Sydney, Australia – Three people were killed when a water-bombing plane fighting bushfires crashed into a large fireball in Australia on Thursday amid rising temperatures that have further fueled the blazes in the country.

The New South Wales authorities said the C-130 Hercules tanker aircraft went down in the Snowy Monaro area, south of the Australian capital, Canberra, in the afternoon.

“Three people have lost their lives after a large tanker crashed. Our thoughts and prayers and heartfelt condolences go to their families,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.

She said the disaster was a “stark and horrible” indication that the fire season in Australia was far from over and the “dangerous work” being undertaken to control the blazes.

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the contact with the aircraft was lost shortly before 1.30 pm.

“Tragically, there appear to be no survivors as a result of the crash down in the Snowy Monaro area. It has impacted heavily with the ground.

“Initial reports are that there was a large fireball associated with the impact of the plane as it hit the ground,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said there was “no indication at this stage on what caused the accident”.

The victims in the plane crash were not immediately identified but the commissioner said all three aboard were residents of the United States.

Canberra Airport was closed on Thursday after the Australian authorities once again activated its fire alert over rising temperatures, which in some places exceeded 40 degrees Celsius.

The flights arriving in and departing from the country’s ninth busiest airport in terms of the number of passengers were suspended around midday due to a fire raging nearby, the airport said in a statement on social media.

The authorities once again activated its fire alert on Thursday over rising temperatures, which in some places exceeded 40 degrees Celsius.

In the Sydney region, where the mercury reached 41 degrees, it is feared that severe heat conditions, strong winds, and potential storms could aggravate the situation.

Strong winds in the mountains posed an increased risk of fires, said the meteorology bureau of New South Wales, the capital of which is Sydney, and. Some 84 fires, 40 of them uncontrolled, are burning in the region.

“There’s every potential for flare-ups and new ignitions to come out of some of these fire grounds,” Fitzsimmons said.

The authorities in the Australian Capital Territory, which includes Canberra, were also on alert against the danger of fires before temperatures begin to fall again on Friday.

Bushfires, which have been raging since September and which worsened on New Year’s Eve, have claimed 32 lives and affected more than 1 billion animals.

The fires have razed more than 2,500 homes and 180,000 square kilometers (some 69,500 square miles) of land, an area equivalent to the size of Syria.

These fires, which experts say have been more intense this year due to global warming, have emitted so far 400 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, an amount equivalent to the country’s average annual emissions, according to the global environment monitoring program Copernicus.

A survey by the Australia Institute published on Thursday found that 57 percent of the people surveyed across the country of 24.6 million inhabitants felt the impact of fires and smoke, while 26 percent experienced health problems as a result.

The report also underlined that about 1.8 million people were unable to work because of the fires, and the loss in productivity was estimated at AU$1.3 billion ($894 million).

“Australia is in the grip of a national climate disaster. The social, economic and medical impacts are vast and only just starting to become clear,” said Tom Swann, a senior researcher at the Australia Institute. EFE-EPA

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One man and his dog: Rescuing koalas from Australia’s bushfires

UNTV News   •   January 16, 2020

A handout image provided by animal trainer Ryan Tate showing Taylor, an English Springer Spaniel that is helping to locate and rescue koalas in danger in the Australian bushfires. EFE/RYAN TATE

Sydney, Australia – A dog trained to track down animals has been helping Australian forest guards find koalas in danger amid the huge bushfires razing the land and claiming the lives of millions of animals in the process.

Taylor, a four-year-old English Springer Spaniel, puts her nose to the ground and sniffs around the wooded terrain in order to detect the iconic marsupial native to Australia, which has become one of the main victims of the vicious fires.

Accompanied by her trainer Ryan Tate, the animal stops in her tracks next to trees where she detects the scent of a koala.

The koalas are usually found clinging to a trunk several meters off the ground, and once Taylor has located one the forest guards are able to rescue and move it out of harm’s way.

The white and brown spotted pooch has helped rescue at least 15 koalas in the eastern state of New South Wales since the forest fires broke out in September, razing an area of land larger than the size of Ireland.

“In optimum conditions we have seen her recognize and hone in on a koala from 125 meters away,” Tate, who owns an animal training center, told Efe on Thursday.

The animal has been trained to “prioritize the scent of the live animal and sit as close to it as she can.”

She comes from a litter of dogs who all work “professionally” to find animals, including turtles, lizards and snakes.

The pair is able to cover between 10-35 kilometers of forest each day.

Since September, the bushfires have swept across an area of ​​more than 80,000 square kilometers, claiming the lives of 28 people.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said Thursday that heavy rains that would alleviate the dry climate that fuels the fires were not forecast until March.

According to estimates by protectionist groups, forest fires have killed over 8,000 koalas, a species already classified as “vulnerable” and under threat from drought, diseases and deforestation.

The severity of the forest fires has stoked fears over the disappearance of the koala – whose population stands at around 80,000, according to the NGO Koala Australia Foundation – if the situation continues and the remaining eucalyptus stock is not protected.

Up to 1 billion animals, mainly mammals, birds and reptiles, are estimated to have been affected by the devastating fires, according to Australian ecologists. EFE-EPA

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