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

Surrey bylaw’s tactics with Uber drivers deemed ‘entrapment’ and ‘completely wrong’

That’s what Councillors Brenda Locke and Linda Annis had to say Monday about city staff hailing Uber drivers then issuing them warnings

Whistleblower says Iranian-Americans questioned at Peace Arch crossing were targeted

Immigration lawyer says response from Customs Border Protection is a ‘total cover up’

Two men charged with first-degree murder in 2019 Surrey case

Two men charged with first-degree murder in killing of Andrew Baldwin, 30, in Surrey

‘Our Surrey Vision’ report to be made public Thursday

Community-engagement project launched by Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association last year

COLUMN: Ontario ride-hailing experience has implications for Surrey

Ride-hailing is now operating in B.C., in a lightning-quick response to the… Continue reading

VIDEO: Canada’s first presumptive case of coronavirus officially confirmed

Both patient and wife arrived on a China Southern Airlines flight after having been to Wuhan

NDP suggests easing secondary housing rules for B.C. farmland

Lana Popham proposes mobiles, guest suites not just for relatives

After four sex assaults linked, RCMP ask women not to walk alone in Coquitlam park

Four sexual assaults took place in Glen Park over two months

BC Place lights up in purple and yellow to honour Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash

‘Big money’ funding B.C. politics now mostly from taxpayers

Campaign targets $16 million and counting in ‘politician welfare’

Ski lift closed at B.C. mountain over alleged actions of former employee

‘We are actively investigating and dealing with the actions of a former employee,’ said the resort

VIDEO: Music stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant at Grammys award show

Music artists including Billy Ray Cyrus, Rick Ross and Kirk Franklin paid tribute to Bryant

John Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls-Royce on display at Royal BC Museum

The classic car has been a favourite for Beatles fans from Victoria and internationally

Most Read