A HUDDERSFIELD man has seen at first hand the horrors of the devastating Australian bush fires.
Matthew Ward, 42, who emigrated to Australia in 1994, lives in Melbourne – close to some of the terrible fires that have claimed 181 lives so far and destroyed thousands of homes.
And he has endured blistering heat soaring to 47.5 deg C in one of the hottest and driest summers on record.
Matthew, who works in IT project management, grew up in Huddersfield and still has family here, although he is now an Australian citizen.
He said: “The fires last weekend were terrible. I live on the west side of Melbourne so I’m not near any of them, but my girlfriend lives on the east side and during Saturday evening the whole area was filled with smoke from a fire that was just the other side of a hill from her house. Fortunately it didn’t get anywhere near her but seven homes were destroyed before it was controlled.
“The major fires are all a good distance from the city but I spent most of Saturday evening and all day Sunday listening to news reports of the devastation. Two, once beautiful country towns, no longer exist and the confirmed death toll this morning is 181 and they expect to find more as they gain access to areas with more burned out homes.
“Country Australians are prepared for bushfires as they happen every year. All through summer I hear advice on the radio about preparing your bushfire plan and deciding if you’re going to leave or stay to defend your house. The advice is always if you’re going to leave, leave early, if you're staying, be prepared. Most bushfires are defendable – people staying at home spray their homes and gardens with water and jump on any embers that fly through. But nobody could be prepared for the fury that hit the state of Victoria on Saturday”.
He said Victoria is the driest it had ever been after many years of drought conditions and the temperature reached 47.5 degrees C at his house which is close to the sea. Inland it reached as high as 50 deg C in some areas.
Police suspect many of the fires were started by arsonist ‘firebugs’ and a huge hunt has been mounted for them as firefighters continue to battle the flames.
Matthew said: “The reports from the very few who survived say that the fire came upon them with the speed of a train and the roar of a jet engine and their homes were gone within minutes. One man said he heard a roaring noise, the sky turned black, it started raining fire and all he could do was run.
“Marysville, a beautiful resort town with a population of 519, was completely destroyed in only an hour. Many of the dead were found in burned out cars after failing to outrun the fire.
“The emergency services did an amazing job. The Country Fire Authority is manned mostly by thousands of volunteers who have been working themselves to exhaustion attempting to control the fires and helping residents to escape.
“Some of the volunteers lost their own homes while they were helping protect the homes of others.
“They were doing it for their friends and neighbours. They were doing it for the lives of strangers. They were doing it because it was the right thing to do.
“I hope these people realise how lucky and honoured we are to have them.
“This is the worst disaster to ever hit Australia – and the entire country is in mourning.”