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Australia bush fires: Cornish mum fears for home

Australia bush fires: Cornish mum fears for home

Published by Sarah Yeoman at 7:00am 3rd January 2020. (Updated at 8:34pm 4th January 2020)

A mum from Cornwall, who now lives in Australia, has told Pirate FM how the bush fires are 'apocalyptic' and she fears for her family home.

Debbie Coates is originally from Probus, between Truro and St Austell, where most of her relatives are still based.

She now lives just across the border from Canberra in New South Wales (NSW) with her husband and two children.

The bush fires are raging about three hours away down the coast, where thousands have been ordered to flee.

Debbie says the whole area is blanketed by fog-like smoke and they currently have the worst air quality in the world.

"It's choking, it burns your eyes and it burns your throat"

bush fires australia
A Cornish mum who lives around three hours from the raging bush fires in Australia has told Pirate FM she fears for her home


Debbie works in Canberra itself; she says there is so much smoke that the drive in is like driving through thick fog.

Her office actually has smoke inside the building and everyone is wearing masks.

"We've been blanketed in thick smoke now for about three or four weeks, it's that bad you go outside and it's choking, it burns your eyes and it burns your throat.

"We are sort of held up in the house, everything is sealed and we have a diffuser to filter the air.

"We've seen animals die and farmers lose their stock, people have lost everything."

Debbie Coates

bush fires australia
This is the view from Cornwall mum, Debbie Coates', back garden in Canberra, which is currently blanketed in fog-like smoke


18 people have been confirmed dead since the fire season began, 15 of them in NSW, including three firefighters. 18 others are missing.

More than 200 bushfires are burning across New South Wales and Victoria, with other states also battling blazes.

Tens of thousands of people have been ordered to leave parts of Australia's eastern coastline, as raging bushfires threaten lives.

The south coast of New South Wales will experience extreme danger from fires this weekend, with temperatures forecast to pass 40C (104F).

"People are standing there in clothes and that's all they've got, it's very hard not to get emotional about it, we're very lucky that we get to donate, there has been a massive collection drive in Canberra, people have been donating water, dried food baby wipes.

"These people have nothing, we've got people with children in evacuation centres, who have lost their houses, lost their cars."

Debbie Coates

New South Wales Rural Fire Service said on social media that the area between Batemans Bay and the border with the state of Victoria "is not safe".

They instructed tourists in the area, which is popular during summer holidays, to leave, adding: "Do not be in this area on Saturday".

Thousands of people have been ordered to leave parts of Australia's east coast as bush fires rage

"It's just apocalyptic. I've never experienced anything like it."

Five military helicopters and two naval ships have been dispatched to help and will bring firefighters, supplies, along with the ability to help with evacuations.

Debbie's daughter is 16 and her son is 13, it is currently the school summer holidays but they have been struggling to contact their friends.

"They are well aware of what's going on and the TV coverage all day is the fires, it's hard for them.

"They have friends stuck down the coast and the communications have gone down, there is no phone signal, no electricity down there, no water, they are messaging their friends trying to find out how they are and there is no response.

"It's just apocalyptic. I've never experienced anything like it."

Debbie Coates

Australia has declared a wildfire state of emergency, with temperatures expected to reach 41C on Saturday


What will Debbie and her family do when the catastrophic weather warning hits?

The plan this weekend is that Debbie and her family will stay at home, inside.

They are lucky enough to have a caravan and everything is packed and ready to go.

All they can do is wait to see if they will get an alert telling them to leave, in which case they will make their way to an evacuation centre.

"The forecast for Saturday is 42C, it's really hard to imagine what that's like when you come from Cornwall and it's cold and it's raining, but you walk outside and it's like a furniss, and then there's the wind too.

"It basically means that you cannot save your house, you will not be able to save it.

"So we have a fire plan in place, where you talk to your family and decide what you'll take, clothes, belongings, pets, and which direction you'll go if the fire comes through. 

"If it's catastrophic conditions you just go, you have to leave, so the kids know that we grab the dog, lock the house and we go."

Debbie Coates

A seven-day state of emergency has been declared in New South Wales starting on Friday, giving the Fire Service commissioner more control and power.

There were long queues outside supermarkets and petrol stations but many people found shelves and petrol pumps empty.

Moving supplies to fire-affected areas has become increasingly difficult, with many roads closed and others covered with debris such as split trees and downed power lines.

bush fires australia
Debbie Coates is hoping the family will be able to stay in their home this weekend, but has described the situation as "just apocalyptic"

"I watch the TV and I just cry..."

Tens of thousands of homes are without power and some towns have no access to drinking water.

People in a number of other areas have also been told to leave, warned their towns "will not be defendable".

More than 1,300 homes have been destroyed in NSW, almost 400 of them since Monday.

"I'm very emotional, it's really hard, I watch the TV and just cry, to see the loss and that people have died, people who are missing, people who can't get back to their houses or don't know if they have a home or not, we have incredible empathy for these people but we are counting our blessings that currently we are okay and we are safe".

Debbie Coates

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