‘Not safe to move’: Fire threats in­ten­sify, death toll rises to 23

Prime min­is­ter says coun­try is ‘fac­ing an­other ex­tremely dif­fi­cult 24 hours’

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - NATION+WORLD - By Shonal Gan­guly and Steve McMo­ran The As­so­ci­ated Press

SYD­NEY » A fa­ther and son who were bat­tling flames for two days are the lat­est vic­tims of the worst wild­fire sea­son in Aus­tralian his­tory, and the path of de­struc­tion widened in at least three states Satur­day amid strong winds and high tem­per­a­tures.

The death toll in the wild­fire cri­sis is now up to 23 peo­ple, Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son said af­ter call­ing up about 3,000 re­servists to bat­tle the es­ca­lat­ing fires, which are ex­pected to be par­tic­u­larly fierce through­out the week­end.

“We are fac­ing an­other ex­tremely dif­fi­cult next 24 hours,” Mor­ri­son said at a tele­vised news con­fer­ence. “In re­cent times, par­tic­u­larly over the course of the balance of this week, we have seen this dis­as­ter es­ca­late to an en­tirely new level.”

Dick Lang, a 78-year-old ac­claimed bush pi­lot and out­back sa­fari op­er­a­tor, and his 43-yearold son, Clay­ton, were iden­ti­fied by Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties af­ter their bod­ies were found Satur­day on a high­way on Kan­ga­roo Is­land. Their fam­ily said its losses left it “heart­bro­ken and reel­ing from this dou­ble tragedy.”

Lang, known as Desert Dick, led tours for trav­el­ers through­out Aus­tralia and other coun­tries. “He loved the bush, he loved ad­ven­ture and he loved Kan­ga­roo Is­land,” his fam­ily said.

Clay­ton Lang, one of his four sons, was a renowned plas­tic sur­geon who spe­cial­ized in hand surgery.

The fire dan­ger in­creased as tem­per­a­tures rose Satur­day to record lev­els across Aus­tralia, sur­pass­ing 109 de­grees Fahren­heit in Can­berra, the cap­i­tal, and reach­ing a record-high 120 in Pen­rith, in Syd­ney’s west­ern sub­urbs.

Video and im­ages shared on so­cial me­dia showed blood-red skies tak­ing over Mal­la­coota, a coastal town in Vic­to­ria where as many as 4,000 res­i­dents and tourists were forced to shel­ter on beaches as the navy tried to evac­u­ate as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.

By Satur­day evening, 3,600 fire­fight­ers were bat­tling blazes across New South Wales state. Power was lost in some ar­eas as fires downed trans­mis­sions lines, and res­i­dents were warned that the worst may be yet to come.

“We are now in a po­si­tion where we are say­ing to peo­ple it’s not safe to move, it’s not safe to leave th­ese ar­eas,” state Pre­mier Gla­dys Bere­jik­lian told re­porters. “We are in for a long night and I make no bones about that.

“We are still yet to hit the worst of it.”

Mor­ri­son said the gov­er­nor gen­eral had signed off on the call­ing up of re­serves “to search and bring ev­ery pos­si­ble ca­pa­bil­ity to bear by de­ploy­ing army bri­gades to fire-af­fected com­mu­ni­ties.”

De­fense Min­is­ter Linda Reynolds said it was the first time that re­servists had been called up “in this way in liv­ing mem­ory and, in fact, I be­lieve for the first time in our na­tion’s his­tory.”

The deadly wild­fires, which have been rag­ing since Septem­ber, al­ready have burned about 12.35 mil­lion acres of land and have de­stroyed more than 1,500 homes.

The early and dev­as­tat­ing start to Aus­tralia’s sum­mer wild­fires also has been cat­a­strophic for the coun­try’s wildlife, likely killing nearly 500 mil­lion birds, rep­tiles and mam­mals in New South Wales alone, Syd­ney Univer­sity ecol­o­gist Chris Dick­man told the Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald. Frogs, bats and in­sects are ex­cluded from his es­ti­mate, mak­ing the toll on an­i­mals much greater.

Ex­perts say cli­mate change has ex­ac­er­bated the un­prece­dented wild­fires around the world. Mor­ri­son has been crit­i­cized for his re­peated re­fusal to say cli­mate change is af­fect­ing the fires, in­stead deem­ing them a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.


A For­est Corporatio­n worker man­ages a fire hose as he bat­tles a fire near Moruya, Aus­tralia, on Satur­day. Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son called up about 3,000 re­servists as the threat of wild­fires es­ca­lated Satur­day in at least three states, with two more deaths, and strong winds and high tem­per­a­tures were fore­cast to bring flames to pop­u­lated ar­eas in­clud­ing the sub­urbs of Syd­ney.

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