Aus­tralia is turn­ing from fire de­fense to of­fense

Antelope Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - By NICK PERRY

BODALLA, Aus­tralia — Crews bat­tling Aus­tralia’s wild­fires said Sun­day that they have been able to turn from de­fense to of­fense for the first time in weeks thanks to a break in the weather.

Dale McLean, who is help­ing man­age the re­sponse to a fire near the town of Bodalla in New South Wales state, was part of team that was bull­doz­ing down small trees and burn­ing scrub ahead of the fire’s pro­jected path to try to stop it from reach­ing a ma­jor high­way by starv­ing it of fuel.

“This fire took a ma­jor run about seven or eight days ago, and with the weather chang­ing now, the weather set­tling down, the fire has set­tled down,” he said. “The fire be­hav­ior has changed. So we’re able to get in front of the fire now, get on the of­fen­sive.”

Other work­ers echoed McLean’s com­ments, say­ing cooler tem­per­a­tures and mild winds have fi­nally of­fered them a chance to make progress. The weather is ex­pected to re­main be­nign for the next week, al­though any de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in con­di­tions af­ter that could see the wild­fires flare up again.

While bat­tling the blazes, vol­un­teer fire­fight­ing vet­eran Mick Stain found some moth lar­vae, or “witch­etty grubs,” and turned them into what’s known in Aus­tralia as bush tucker by roast­ing them di­rectly on the fire’s burn­ing coals.

“Bit creamy and nutty, but they’re all right,” Stain said. “They’re not spew-wor­thy, so they’re pretty good.”

Mean­while, U.S. ten­nis star Ser­ena Wil­liams do­nated her $43,000 win­ner’s check from New Zealand’s ASB Clas­sic to the fundrais­ing ap­peal for vic­tims of the wild­fires, join­ing many other ten­nis stars to pledge money, in­clud­ing Ash Barty, Nick Ky­grios, No­vak Djokovic and Maria Shara­pova.

Also on Sun­day, news came that an­other fire­fighter had been killed. Bill Slade — one of the few pro­fes­sion­als among mainly vol­un­teer brigades bat­tling blazes across south­east Aus­tralia — died af­ter be­ing hit by a fall­ing tree on Satur­day near Omeo in east­ern Vic­to­ria state, For­est Fire Man­age­ment Vic­to­ria Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Chris Hard­man said.

The 60-year-old mar­ried father of two was com­mended in Novem­ber for 40 years of ser­vice with the forestry agency.

“Al­though we do have enor­mous ex­pe­ri­ence in iden­ti­fy­ing haz­ardous trees, some­times th­ese tree fail­ures can’t be pre­dicted,” Hard­man said. “Work­ing on the fire ground in a for­est en­vi­ron­ment is a dy­namic, high-risk en­vi­ron­ment and it car­ries with it sig­nif­i­cant risk.”

The tragedy brings the death toll to at least 27 in a cri­sis that has de­stroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched an area larger than the U.S. state of In­di­ana since Septem­ber. Four of the ca­su­al­ties have been fire­fight­ers.

The cri­sis 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 Fri­day in Syd­ney and Melbourne, call­ing for Mor­ri­son to be fired and for Aus­tralia to take tougher ac­tion on global warm­ing.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fire­fighter Mick Stain eats a moth lar­vae called a witch­etty grub Sun­day as he helps pa­trol a con­trolled fire as they work at build­ing a con­tain­ment line at a wild­fire near Bodalla, Aus­tralia.

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