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Australia fires: Minister says up to 30 per cent of koalas may have been lost in bushfire crisis

Australia fires: Minister says up to 30 per cent of koalas may have been lost in bushfire crisisOne of Australia’s most famous animals is now a threatened species, with the country’s bushfire crisis wiping out huge numbers of koalas. Sussan Ley, the environment minister said Friday that the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, home to a sizeable part of Australia’s koala population, may have lost 30 per cent of its koalas. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Ms Ley said 30 per cent of koala habitat had been destroyed in the region.  She added: “We will know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made”. Before the fire crisis began it was estimated that up to 28,000 koalas lived in the Mid North Coast. Eight people have died in New South Wales alone, and about 3.4million hectares and almost 1,000 homes have been lost to the long-running bushfire crisis. Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia have also faced large, emergency-level fires this fire season. Australian wildfire status Early on Friday the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) issued a “very high fire danger rating” for many parts of the state. In a statement, the RFS said there were “almost 1,300 firefighters in the field. Over 70 bush and grass fires, 33 uncontained”. Late in the day, it warned that Saturday would see “widespread very high fire danger”. South Australia’s Country Fire Service (CFS) assistant chief officer Brenton Eden told The Advertiser that the state is extremely dry and the conditions and coming heatwave poses a serious threat. “We are seeing fire behaviour across SA, Victoria and NSW that we haven’t seen and experienced for a long time… These fires are now travelling immense distances and covering an enormous amount of the landscape before people are prepared either to defend their property or to get out,” he said. “Cudlee Creek has been the most classic example recently, together with Yorketown, of fires that have started from a very small ignition source… The CFS responded within minutes to them and had no capacity to bring them under control.” Mr Eden warned that the two fires that have burnt through a total of 42,300 hectares of land at Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills, and in Duncan, on Kangaroo Island, would continue to burn for weeks. “It’s tinder dry and ready to burn and that’s what we’re seeing at the moment,” he said. As the crisis continues there is renewed pressure on Scott Morrison, the prime minister, to reform Australia’s firefighting services and infrastructure. Weeks after he rejected calls to transform Australia’s largely volunteer bush firefighting services into professional organisations, one of Mr Morrison’s own senior Ministers has called for change. As three large fires raged in his electorate of Gippsland, Victoria, Veterans' Affairs Minister and Nationals MP Darren Chester said this week that there is strong support among his constituents to pay volunteers when they worked for extended periods.  Veteran NSW fire fighter Brendan Hurley, writing for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, said: “I've been a firefighter for 20 years and these fires have delivered the worst conditions I've ever faced. We have been responding to bushfires since the end of September and it is fair to say that as we move further into the campaign fatigue is setting in.” And one week after the uproar over Mr Morrison's Hawaiian holiday, New South Wales Emergency Services Minister David Elliott is leaving the country for a trip to the UK and France. His office said the Minister would not cancel his trip, but in a statement Mr Elliott said he would return home, “if the bushfire situation should demand it”. Mr Morrison’s Liberal Party is also in power at a state level in New South Wales.

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Australian man describes how he survived bushfire in makeshift shelter as inferno roared around him

Australian man describes how he survived bushfire in makeshift shelter as inferno roared around himAn Australian man who became trapped by a bushfire has described how he survived the inferno as it tore through his property at the weekend. Steve Harrison decided to stay for as long as possible to defend his home in the New South Wales village of Balmoral, which was all but wiped out by the out-of-control fires on Saturday.  "When it came, it came in like three or four minutes, just a big plume of black smoke and then ember fallout," recalled Mr Harrison. In an interview with ABC, the 67-year-old artist described how he frantically tried to turn on the sprinklers on buildings in his property but within minutes he found himself trapped, unable to escape. "My garden was already on fire here. And the driveway was on fire, and the road was on fire. So I realised I couldn't evacuate," Mr Harrison said. Steve Harrison is lucky to be alive. The potter hid in his ‘makeshift kiln’ for 20 mins as the Green Wattle Creek fire engulfed his property. He watched his beloved potting shed burn to the ground but thankfully his house is still standing. @abcsydney@abcnewspic.twitter.com/mG6o73MBLF— Lydia Feng (@LydiaLFeng) December 22, 2019 He said he had to turn to his plan B: Hiding in a small kiln, just the size of a coffin, that he had built the day before. It was just big enough for him to crawl inside, he said. "I hid in there for half an hour while the firestorm went over," he said. "It was huge, just glowing orange-red everywhere. Just scary. I was terrified." Mr Harrison said all his neighbours' homes had been destroyed, but his efforts to protect his home meant it was still standing. "I put a lot of money and effort and time into putting dedicated firefighting pumps just to run the sprinklers on the walls and roof," he told ABC News. "My wife and I spent the day wrapping [the house] up in aluminium foil to reflect the heat."  Bushfires rage as Australian heatwave leads to hottest ever day, in pictures The village of Balmoral, southwest of Sydney, was devastated by the Green Wattle Creek firestorm that roared through the area twice in three days. Dozens of homes have been lost since Thursday in massive wildfires, including the Gospers Mountain blaze, which covered more than 460,000 hectares (1.1 million acres). Scorching heat baking the country eased on Monday bringing relief from the bushfires, which destroyed around 180 houses and killed one person over the weekend, allowing firefighters to prepare for worsening conditions post-Christmas. Six people have now died in bushfires which have destroyed more than 3.7 million hectares (9.1 million acres) across five states. A statue of Buddha damaged by Saturday's catastrophic bushfires in the Southern Highlands village of Balmoral, Australia Credit: Reuters Nearly 100 fires are burning across New South Wales state. "Conditions have begun to ease," the New South Wales (state) Rural Fire Service said on Monday. "Crews will continue their work today to identify and strengthen (fire) containment lines, with favourable conditions over coming days." Temperatures are forecast to spike again in many states by the weekend, with the South Australian capital city of Adelaide forecast to reach 39 Celsius (102.2 Fahrenheit), according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Similar temperatures are expected in the Victorian city of Melbourne. Under-fire Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected calls for "reckless" and "job-destroying" cuts to the country's vast coal industry in the face of the deadly climate-fuelled bushfire crisis. A view of a house damaged by recent catastrophic bushfires in the Southern Highlands village of Balmoral Credit: Rex Mr Morrison's conservative government has fiercely defended the lucrative coal industry in Australia, which produces a third of global coal exports and provides work in key swing electoral districts. "I am not going to write off the jobs of thousands of Australians by walking away from traditional industries," Morrison told the Seven Network, in one of several morning interviews rejecting calls for further action. "What we won't do is engage in reckless and job-destroying and economy-crunching targets which are being sought," he told Channel 9, responding to calls for more climate-friendly policies. Mr Morrison's media blitz came as he sought to limit the political fallout from a much-criticised Hawaiian holiday – taken as bushfires destroyed an area the size of Belgium and unleashed toxic smoke into Australia's major cities.

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