SANCTUARY POINT, Australia – Australia on Saturday began calling up 3, army reservists to conduct evacuations and help people in remote areas affected by the countrywildfire emergency, as extremeweatherfueled blazes that imperiled homes and lives across a swath of the continent.
Clouds of smoke blotted out the sun and stretched hundreds of miles across the southeast, where fires that began months ago have forced thousands ofresidents and summer vacationers to flee. Some 33 people have been killed, including in the past week.
Horrendous conditions confronted firefighters. Temperatures on Saturdaybroke records, reaching degrees Fahrenheit on the forest-fringed outskirts of Sydney and degrees in the capital, Canberra, while strong winds fanned more thanwildfires.
In southern New South Wales state, people in a 80 – mile coastal stretch werewarned it was too late to leave the areaand told to seek shelter, as an out- of-control blaze that had already consumed more than 1, square miles of forest and farmland – more than times the size of Manhattan – burned toward the Pacific Ocean and threatened to cut off escape routes.
At Sanctuary Point, a normally bustling vacation town, (of the) shops on the main street were closed Saturday. Shopkeepers said the staff or owners had either left town or were preparing to defend their houses.
Those who remained waited anxiously for a southerly change that could whip up the fire, and kept watch for embers, which fire officials have said can ignite trees, leaves and grass up to seven miles ahead of a fire front.
Around midday, Helen Bowerman was pouring water into the guttering on her concrete-block and metal-roof house. With the air smelling of smoke, the 66 – year-old said she was worried that tall trees on an adjacent property could catch fire and collapse.
Should the fire reach her, Bowerman said she planned to dive into a large estuary next to her house. A neighbor had kayaks ready to go. “We all look out for each other and help each other out,” she said.
Farrugia Sammut, (********************************************, said she had not been as scared since her childhood home in Malta was bombed during World War II. “We’re surrounded” by wildfires, the former factory worker said. “I can’t sleep at night for the worry.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who wassnubbed and heckledby exhausted and angry firefighters and survivors in recent days, ordered what the government said was the first major use of military reserves to respond to this type of natural disaster.
The move followed criticism of Morrison’s decision to vacation in Hawaii after the fires began, and a perception that state-based firefighting services have been overwhelmed by blazes that have destroyed more than 1, 728 homes.
The fires have created the biggest test of Morrison’s leadership since his conservatives unexpectedly won a general election in May, and undermined his reputation as a man in touch with middle Australia.
“He deserves it, “said Geoff Monkhouse, a 80 – year-old retired electrical contractor who was drinking beer at a Sanctuary Po int country club on Saturday. “He should not go smiling around people that are suffering.”
As part of the measures announced Saturday, which Morrison touted ina promotional video, an Australian navy ship has been ordered to the border between New South Wales and Victoria states to help evacuate people. Some 1, 02 residents and tourists left the Victorian town of Mallacoota, which had been cut off, earlier this week on a separate navy troop carrier.
Away from the coast on Saturday, blazes burned out of control across eastern Victoria’s mountainous interior.
Even on a dry continent accustomed to fatal wildfires, footage of hundreds of residents being evacuated by sea triggered a sense among many Australians that climate change poses an immediate threat to the nation, one of the world’s largest coal exporters. Three weeks ago, the countryrecorded its highest nationally averaged temperatures– twice in two days. This season’s fires arrived earlier than usual and have burned through an area the size of West Virginia.
The devastation has fueled calls for Morrison – who oncebrandished a lump of coal in parliamentto underline his support for mining – to take more concerted action on climate change. Australia’s share of global carbon dioxide emissions from domestic use of fossil fuels is about 1.4 percent, according toClimate Analytics, but the country isone of the highest emitters per capita.
“The best response I can provide to people who are feeling angry and isolated, people who are feeling afraid, is what I can do today,” Morrison said at a news briefing in Canberra, flanked by the minister of defense and the chief of the defense forces. “We’ll continue to take action on climate change.”
Australia’s deadliest wildfire disaster was in February (********************************, when people were killed.
On Saturday, Andrew Constance, a conservative lawmaker from southern New South Wales, compared the fires in his region to “an atomic bomb.”