Living with ‘catastrophic’ fires in Australia

CBC Kids News • Published 2019-11-18 13:06

Teen has been feeding young kangaroos affected by fires

After a week of cancelled classes, Charlotte Wooldridge, 13, will be heading back to school today.

She lives in Diamond Beach, New South Wales, Australia, and last week she and her family evacuated their home because a bushfire had reached their property.

A map showing where Diamond Beach is in New South Wales, Australia

Bushfires — known as wildfires in Canada — are common in Australia, but this year they started earlier than usual and are expected to last a long time.

Charlotte’s family owns a beachside resort with 70 villas.

On Nov. 10, Charlotte and her older sister, Olivia, were up in the middle of the night, watching the fire in the distance, when their parents said it was time to leave.

CBC Kids News caught up with her a few days later.

Charlotte Wooldridge, 13, said she saw bushfires three years ago, but these are worse. (Alissa Wooldridge)

Q: Where are you right now? A: In Port Macquarie. Q: Who are you staying with? A: We are in a hotel with Mum. Q: It’s the middle of the day there. What’s it like out? A: It is very smoky outside.

Some sheep are seen in a haze of smoke in a field

Smoke fills the early morning sky on Nov. 11 in Glen Innes, Australia. Authorities have called the fire threat on the east coast ‘catastrophic.’  (Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)

Port Macquarie is a town about an hour’s drive from Diamond Beach.

There are currently more than 100 bushfires raging across the east coast of Australia.

They are affecting people who live in two states: Queensland and New South Wales.

The country has been in a drought for three years.

Fires are caused by lightning strikes, people who drop cigarettes or who light the fires on purpose.

Q: I heard the fire reached your property. What was that like? A: It was exciting at first, until it got very close and then it was really scary. Q: I bet. What did you do? A: I had been watching it since 4:00 a.m. and at around 8:00 a.m. my siblings, mum and I had to leave for Diamond Beach, but Dad stayed home.

A helicopter drops water on a forest fire

A fire-bombing helicopter works to contain a bushfire in Old Bar, New South Wales, on Nov. 9. (Shane Chalker/via Reuters)

Q: Why did your dad stay back? A: To help protect our house and the resort until the firefighters got there. Q: Was he able to do that? A: Yes. Q: How did he do it???? A: He got out all of the hoses and the fire hoses we had at the resort, and with the help of a few guests and locals they protected the resort. Q: Did any of it get damaged? A: Only a linen container, but other than that it was just bush. A: And wildlife.

A woman gives water to a koala through a syringe.

A dehydrated and injured koala receives treatment at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital on Nov. 2. While this one was rescued from a bushfire, hundreds of koalas are feared to have died, according to authorities. (Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

Hundreds of homes have been destroyed, as well as a million hectares of farmland.

That’s about the equivalent of two Prince Edward Islands.

CAPTION/CREDIT: A dehydrated and injured koala receives treatment at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital on Nov. 2. While this one  was rescued from a bushfire, hundreds of koalas are feared to have died, according to authorities. (Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images)  Hundreds of homes have been destroyed, as well as a million hectares of farmland.  That’s about the equivalent of two Prince Edward Islands.

Charlotte has been taking care of this kangaroo, which has burn marks on its paws. While she was away, her dad was looking after it. (Alissa Wooldridge)

Q: Why is it important for you to help these animals? A: Because they deserve a life like us and their homes and food have been destroyed, and they don’t have any water, because we are in such a bad drought. Q: Aren’t they afraid of you? A: They are scared of us, but because they need help, they are starting to become a little bit tamer. They hop all around the resort usually, so they are quite used to people, but are still wild animals so are startled quite easily. A: It’s mostly just putting saucepans of food and water out for them.

A kangaroo stands on charred vegetation in the aftermath of a bushfire in Wallabi Point, New South Wales on Nov. 12. (Adam Stevenson/Social Media via Reuters)

Q: What do they eat? A: We have been feeding them our rabbit food. Q: And they like it? A: It’s a mix of pellet oats, corn, grass, sunflower seeds, etc. So it’s yummy for them!

Piles of clothes and blankets on tables

Donations have been piling up at an evacuation centre for people who lost their homes and belongings in the fires in Australia. (Submitted by Alissa Wooldridge)

Q: What are people doing to help the people who lost their homes? A: People are donating lots of things and people are opening their houses for people to stay. My parents gave some people some of their clothes and shoes.

Firefighters battle a spot fire on Nov. 13 in Hillville, New South Wales. (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

Q: What about the firefighters? A: We have had so many fires all at once that our local firefighters haven’t been able to do it alone, so we have had planes coming in full of hundreds of firefighters from all over Australia.  A: We have also had convoys of trucks bringing supplies to people who have lost homes and belongings and water and food. A: It’s been so good to see everyone coming together to help. So amazing.


With files from Thomson Reuters

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