I had my first, and thankfully only, fire-related experience of evacuating from our home as some structures on a nearby street were going up in flames back when I was in Grade 2. We scampered down the steps of our two-story apartment in our sleeping clothes and fled. I do not think I was able to bring anything with me. Thankfully, the firefighters successfully put out the flames and everything was safe and intact when we returned to our home a few days later. We were living in Cebu City then.
When we moved to Australia towards the latter part of primary school, I was made aware of the danger of bushfires through visits and incursions of the local fire authority or its counterpart volunteer fire brigade. In more recent years, my annual reminder of the crucial need to support our firefighters comes by way of a visit from our local professional volunteer brigade appealing for help via donations for their fundraising calendar distributed to every household in our area.
I am familiar with the devastation a widespread bushfire leaves in its wake, but seeing video footage of the current ones in Australia that have burned a staggering 10 million hectares, killed 24 people and an estimated 1.25 billion animals is shocking and heart-wrenching. It is a dire situation and many the world over are fervently praying for heavy, sustained rains and cooler temperatures to prevail.
My family and friends are far enough from the bushfire areas to be safe but continue to remain vigilant as the summer months in the Land Down Under are far from over. They are not spared from the grey skies, thick haze and smell of smoke and fumes even from inside their office buildings and homes. Those who are asthmatic or more susceptible to upper respiratory illnesses have been cautioned to stay indoors. Those who must venture out are advised to wear protective face masks.
The air quality has dropped significantly in many Australian cities, especially those in the southeastern part of the country. My aunt, who has to go to Canberra from Melbourne, has been advised by friends living in the nation’s capital to bring masks for herself and for them as some chemists are running low on stock of this much needed item.
My friends and family have shared photographs of the skyline of their respective cities in the states of Victoria and New South Wales, some rural and others metropolitan, all blanketed by haze from the bushfires. It is a heartbreaking sight, especially since you know others are even much closer to the danger zones.
A video has circulated on social media, described as a tribute to those suffering, the firefighters, frontliners and countless volunteers who are helping to save lives. Pictures and video clips are shown and the only words you hear are the lyrics to the song, “I am (We are) Australian.”
This moving video behooves me to search for hopeful stories of heroism, community spirit, compassion and heart amid this ongoing catastrophe.
There have been many of these positive stories going around. Neighbors helping neighbors. Those opening their homes and providing refuge for individuals and families who have fled the fires or to those who have come to help fight the fires.
Compassionate souls are coming together from as near as next door to as far as across continents, all eager to help.
The mega-fires have been described by people on the ground and by media as apocalyptic. In the midst of this horrendous and terrifying situation, many choose to turn their anguish and concern into action. It is heartening to see the many little and not-so-little acts of kindness that are generously being shared.
The firefighters, mostly volunteers, are undoubtedly doing a heroic service. They are risking their very lives to help save that of others. Year in and year out they have prepared to defend life and property from such fires, but the massive scale of the ones they are facing now is unprecedented. They need all the support and resources the world can give them. It is hopeful to see that individuals and nations are coming together to do just that.
Comedian Celeste Barber has spearheaded a fundraiser for the Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Brigades Donations Fund to help make a positive contribution. As of Friday morning, there have been 1,267,971 donors to this worthwhile cause. Her appeal has so far raised nearly A$48 million.
There are those sharing valuable words of encouragement and expertise. One which caught my interest is “a guide on how to speak to children about these fires” by Plan International Australia and “co-authored by child psychologist Karen Young.” It shares helpful tips “on how to support children who may be distressed by fires, sirens and emergency personnel nearby or news reports on television about fires in Australia.”
Others are doing voluntary work such as gathering, sorting and preparing relief goods for distribution to affected communities. There are also those helping to rescue and care for wounded animals.
This catastrophe continues to unfold in one of our world’s precious continents. In many ways as the iconic Aussie song goes, “I am, you are, WE are Australian.” What’s happening in Australia is happening to OUR world. This is our reality today, one of extreme weather phenomena and mega disasters. It is up to all of us to steward it the best way we can.