President of expat group for Australians in Manitoba says fires ‘horrendous’ to watch from afar

Click to play video: 'Australians now living in Manitoba say fires ‘horrendous’ to watch from afar'
Australians now living in Manitoba say fires ‘horrendous’ to watch from afar
Global's Marney Blunt speaks to Australian expats about the ongoing havoc caused by wildfires in their home country – Jan 8, 2020

The president of a local club for Australian expats says the ongoing havoc caused by wildfires in his home country is distressing to watch from afar.

Peter Munn, president of the Down Under Club of Winnipeg, told 680 CJOB he — like many other Australian-Canadians — has been busy checking in on friends and family back home while watching the devastation from Manitoba.

“I’m checking them every night and during the day, and it’s obviously very, very scary stuff for the people who are living on that east coast of Australia,” said Munn.

“My own family has been impacted there. It’s been a terrible time of destruction, and potentially the worst is yet to come.”

READ MORE: Winnipeg-based centre coordinating deployment of Canadians fighting Australia wildfires

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Munn said his brother’s family has moved from a bush area to a township near the water, and one of his nieces has been moved twice since being evacuated from her New South Wales home and still hasn’t been able to return.

The ongoing crisis in Australia has displaced thousands of locals and tourists, and has led to support from around the world, including a number of firefighters from Manitoba volunteering to help battle the flames, as well as the Winnipeg-based Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre playing a key role in coordinating Canadian efforts to help.

Munn said that while bush fire season is something regularly experienced in Australia, the current crisis has been ‘horrendous’.

“The discussion [among Australian expats in Winnipeg] is that this is as bad as bush fires have been for a long, long time,” he said.

“I think the hardest thing is that this could very well be the new normal. It’s been horrendous, what we’ve seen.

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“The worst bush fire season is still to come in January and February… heavens forbid that the east coast of Australia has to put up with this same type of fire situation, because of the enormous heat and winds that are heating that area.”

Click to play video: 'Manitoba firefighters help fight raging wildfires in Australia'
Manitoba firefighters help fight raging wildfires in Australia

Jenny Gates moved to Winnipeg from Sydney, Australia 25 years ago. She is also a member of the Down Under Club of Winnipeg.

“It’s just hard to process, just to watch it and not be able to do very much about it,” Gates said.

She says watching the wildfire crisis down under hits too close to home. Two of her friends have lost their homes to the flames and her younger brother is a volunteer firefighter there who has seen the devastation firsthand.

“He also lost a mate. A fellow that used to be on his fire brigade was killed while volunteering, so that’s really tragic for him,” she said.

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“For [my brother] losing his friend, I can’t even imagine what that’s like and it’s terrifying to think that he’s back volunteering. But that’s what they need. They need people to get in and do the work or just get out of the way, I think.”

READ MORE: Manitoba firefighters leave for Australia to help fight raging wildfires

Gates also says she worries about the coming months.

“The idea that it could be getting even worse is almost hard to comprehend, because you think, ‘what could be left to burn?’ There’s so much devastation already. So unless they get a lot of rain to put things out, the wind stops long enough for them to do what they need to do, or it just burns itself out completely,” she added.

“And that’s horrifying to think that that is one of the ways the fire could be stopped because that’s inconceivable. People are really scared because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Munn said the Down Under Club’s website lists a number of resources for people who want to help out by making donations to organizations like the Australian Red Cross, as well as regional charities and organizations dedicated to helping injured wildlife.

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— With files from Marney Blunt. 

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