ADELAIDE (NEWS 1130) – It appears the worst is about to come true. Fears of strong winds and extreme temperatures have forced one of the largest evacuations in Australian history as wildfires continue to rage across the country.
“It’s genuinely terrifying,” Gabby Marchant, a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation based in south Australia, tells NEWS 1130. “Huge areas along the southeastern coast of Australia … that is the area that has been most impacted by these fires, though there have been fires everywhere.”
She describes the situation as unprecedented, and says what’s been predicted has “come to pass.” On Kangaroo Island, which is just off the south coast of Adelaide, for example, evacuation centres have been set up. However, it may have been too late for staffers at a local resort who were trapped by a rapidly moving fire.
“At this stage, it seems like those people have survived, but with these sorts of fires, we’re told that it is very dangerous,” she explains. “The radiant heat can kill you if you are not in a protected area. We just don’t even know what we will find in the morning.”
Firefighters have been escorting convoys of evacuees as more than 200 fires threatened to close roads.
They navy, meantime, has been deployed to rescue those forced to shelter from the flames on beaches.
The wildfires aren’t just impacting the people who live in Australia, either. The impact on wildlife has been devastating, and something that has hit Marchant hard.
“There has been such a loss of wildlife, of livestock,” she says. “Horrifying pictures of kangaroos, like little joeys, that have been burned to death, and thousands and thousands of cows and horses that have just had to be abandoned because the fires have moved so quickly.”
Hot weather and strong winds in the forecast this weekend are expected to worsen the devastating wildfires, which have claimed at least 19 lives. The weather has raised Australia’s fire danger after an already-early start to the season. This summer’s blazes are currently the worst on record, and about five million hectares of land have burned.
“We’ve now gotten to the point where there are emergency warnings — which is the highest level of warning that you can have, that’s basically the fire is un-defendable, it is out of control, you are in danger you must seek shelter, it is too late for you to try to leave — I think we’ve currently got them in place for at least four states,” Marchant explains. “So Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, and Tasmania, and this scene has just been repeated again and again at the same time for thousands and thousands of people.”
Smoke from the wildfires has also choked air quality in much of the country, turning the skies into a near-nighttime darkness in the areas hardest hit by flames. Many images show towns decimated and people packing up their lives under bright red skies, which can only be compared to scenes from an apocalyptic movie.
“These fires are so ferocious,” Marchant says, adding there’s almost been a kind of “stripping away of modernity.”
“For parts of Australia, it has felt like we are in a sort of war. We don’t have access to the things that we’re so used to in the modern world, and there’s been a breakdown of the things that you come to expect in sort of a modern country,” she says, adding it’s been a “sobering time” for everyone in the country.
-With files from The Associated Press