Catastrophic bushfires have raged across northern New South Wales and parts of Queensland, claiming three lives, injuring others and causing widespread destruction to property.
The town of Glen Innes, in NSW’s north, is at the centre of the ‘unprecedented’ blaze.
“Walls of flame” attacked the area and its surrounds, Glen Innes Mayor Carol Sparks told Channel 7, where two of the three fatalities occurred, and a community has been left devastated.
“I think we are all a bit shell-shocked and coming to terms with the death of our friends and coming to terms with losing all of our belongings and our structures and our homes and our lives,” Sparks said.
“We’re going to have to have a big rethink about the future of our community.
“We have lost so much.”
The Mayor told Sky News that the fires, which have burned over thousands of hectares, are unlike anything she’s seen, after living in the town for 40 years.
“It was burning in an area that hasn’t been burnt, has been quite green, for many, many years,” she said.
“We’ve never seen it like this. The animals are all lying on the ground dead.”
Vivian Chaplain, 69, died trying to protect her animals and home at Wytaliba, 35km east of Glen Innes, and was found with “40-50 per cent burns to her body”.
“She was stuck and we couldn’t get to her,” Ms Chaplain’s daughter-in-law told the ABC.
“The loss of her has devastated our family and there was nothing we could do.”
The other Glen Innes victim, George Cole, was discovered inside a burnt out car yesterday morning at the Kangawalla fire, also east of the town.
Sparks told ABC that one of her relatives had tryed to help Cole, and was now in hospital in Sydney with severe burns.
“He ran up the hill behind him when the fire was coming, and asked him to get out, ‘Could you let me help you?’ He wanted to stay and defend his house,” she said.
“He turned around and the fire just overran him. He got severely burnt.
“There was no time to think or do anything really except try and save your life.”
A Wytaliba homeowner described to The Australian the harrowing moment the “massive wall of fire” swept through the community.
Mirek sustained burns to his hands and feet while fighting to save his home, where many of his belongings, including sheds, were destroyed.
“I saw this massive wall of fire coming towards me with a wind gust that was knocking me off my feet,” he said.
“It was so strong.
“Then you could hear all the banging with trees exploding. It was like a war.”
Another resident told the Today Show that he assumed the fire was “days away”.
But in “half an hour, an hour, she’s on our doorstep, and we’re packing our stuff and evacuating, flames all around us and the house has caught alight,” the man said.
More than 40 people have been injured, 150 homes destroyed, and one resident estimated 80 per cent of the community’s buildings were gone, including the school — but the worst may not be over.
“We cannot rule out the really great concerns that there could be more fatalities as we get through and identify details across these fire grounds,” NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said yesterday.
“We’re all in trouble,” Sparks told Channel 7.
“Next week is going to be horrific.”
The Mayor slammed Prime Minister Scott Morrison — who travelled today to the NSW north coast region to visit the areas affected — for sidestepping a question on whether climate change was linked to the state’s blazes.
“It’s climate change, there’s no doubt about it,” Sparks said.
“The whole of the country is going to be affected. We need to take a serious look at our future.”
The Prime Minister refused to address global warming on Saturday, saying that his only thoughts were with those who had lost their lives, the firefighters, and the response effort.
“It’s unbelievable,” Sparks said of Morrison’s response, asking how he could deny it.
“It’s becoming more and more obvious surely. Why isn’t he saying ‘yes it is climate change’? Why isn’t he saying ‘we will do all we can to help’? He is our leader. He should know better.”
“I’d just say to the community — be strong. We just have to hang together and look after each other.”