Fire too close for comfort for Maltese author in Australia

'Mass murder' - Australian PM

A horse that was trapped by the raging fires lies dead at the side of the road near Kinglake, north east of Melbourne. Picture: Reuters

A horse that was trapped by the raging fires lies dead at the side of the road near Kinglake, north east of Melbourne. Picture: Reuters

A Maltese-born woman resident north of Melbourne has described how her husband escaped the fire currently sweeping the area by jumping into water behind a dam, while they had to use water from their swimming pool to keep flames away from their house.

People in the state of Victoria, Australia are experiencing the worst bushfires ever to hit the continent, with 134 now confirmed dead and many missing. Australian media reported that at least 31 fires were still burning.

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Dr Lou Drofenik (Zammit), a Maltese author born in Birkirkara but living on Mount Disappointment, 60km north of Melbourne, said she had a too-close-for-comfort experience.

"I found an inner strength... My son, Peter, kept telling me ‘mum we're going to be alright'... My husband was caught outside [our home] but he was lucky to be close to a dam and he went down in the dam," she told Marlene Galea, in an interview with SBS radio.

"The light was so white! It was silver! ... It was dark and light, and dark and light," she continued in her description of the fire.

She said that as flames neared her home, the fire pump could not work because there was no electricity. The water taps were too hot to touch, and the water hoses were all burnt.

But they somehow managed to save their house by throwing bucketfuls of water from the swimming pool.

"I only saw one spark close to the back door and all of a sudden the fire came at us... it was so quick".

Dr Drofenik said that her neighbour died in the fire, and that there are some 30 horses loose on the street, and another died after it was trapped in its stable.

Her son's house suffered damage to its façade. They lost their shed, vineyard, olive trees and hay.

The Victorian Farmers’ Association said that animal welfare staff and livestock transport companies are working hard to provide support to farmers.

Meanwhile, John Cassar, a resident of Mulgrave, a suburb of Melbourne, said he watched the smoke from the fire travel through the surrounding suburbs.

"There was an eerie feeling as the temperature hit almost 47degrees. I have never experienced heat of this nature; so dry and strong hot north wind accompanying the heat. The air conditioner worked overtime to keep the room cool for my aging mother. The surrounding streets became deserted as neighbours sought refuge in their homes from the heat. The heat of Malta is different as the humidity can be very high but on this day the humidity in Victoria was a mere six percent.

"The drought of 12 years added another dimension to the impending threat that the authorities warned the population about. And what made it worse, is that the authorities are of the opinion that some of the fires were deliberately started."

Victoria Premier John Brumby described the fire as "hell on earth". Australian media reported that police suspect that some of the fires might have been started by arsonists.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, described the actions of arsonists suspected of lighting at least some of the bushfires in south-east Australia as “mass murder”.

Firefighters from NSW, Tasmania and the ACT have flown to the state of Victoria.

Marlene Galea is Senior Producer - Maltese Language Programmes, for SBS Radio.


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