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tv   Panorama  BBC News  October 7, 2020 3:30am-4:00am BST

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playing. his son wolfgang paid tribute to him on social media, saying he was the best father he could ever ask for. it is about 3:30am. now on bbc news: panorama. oh, my god! it was really difficult to see. we had trees burning on either side. we're worried about them coming down. it's been a year since fires spread across australia, scorching and charring at a speed never seen before. the flame heights were jumping to the 60, 70—metre mark well in excess of the crown of the trees. at least 33 people died. an area, bigger than the size of england, laid to waste. it's been called an apocalypse, a nightmare, looking like the gates of hell. whoa! kangaroo!
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the sky just constantly was changing colour and itjust got darker and darker and darker until... woman cries out ..the fires hit us. i'm clive myrie, and i witnessed the destruction. blown by these really strong winds and these, these are the conditions that the authorities have been having to deal with during this appalling bushfire season. it's a disaster, a national disaster. a year on, we hear dramatic accounts from those living in the path of the flames... mate, you need to get out! don't go back in! ..and the firefighters who risked their lives to save them. their truck is dead. with testimony from australian broadcaster abc and footage recorded by those on the front line... it's massively hot in here! ..this is the story of australia's worst bushfires in living memory. i can't believe this.
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how did this happen? the destruction was immense. a landscape transformed. 0ver six months, more than 3,000 houses and buildings destroyed. i was there. i'd never seen anything like it. walls of heat and fire, 10, 20, 30, 40km wide. bushfires are a fact of life in australia but this time was different. evacuate! please, evacuate! after two years of drought, the fires had started early and quickly spread down the east coast. the onrush of heat and fire killing thousands of animals. it is really, really disturbing. that is just such a waste.
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it's uncharted territory in new south wales this evening, according to emergency officials in the state. they are battling an unprecedented number of emergency—level fires. in nymboida, a rural new south wales hamlet, residents hoped the local river might protect them. 0n the friday, when the fire came through, it was travelling on the other side of the nymboida river and we had north—westerly winds. but at about six o'clock i got a phone call from a local saying that it had jumped the river and the wind had changed — you could feel the wind change to come from the south, and that was unexpected. and the fire became so huge that it created its own weather and we had 80—kilometre winds, and it was just roaring along, there was nothing you could do. then toni and her husband got a call. they had ten minutes
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to get out. jumping into their truck, or ute, they tried to outrun the flames. at first there was no fire. you couldn't see anything. it was just pitch—black. and then we turned one of the corners on the dirt road that we live on and the fire front was right there, just sweeping across the road as we drove through it. i don't know. there is what's her name place. did she lose it? i can't believe this. how did this happen? we were driving at about 30ks an hour. embers everywhere, across the front of the car and we could hear sticks and logs and things falling into the back of the ute. and with visibility so low i had to direct my partner left or right, left, right so that
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we'd stay on the road. oh, no. yeah. the whole time we were driving and escaping, it's there, you're thinking that if there's a tree down, we're not going to get out. have we made this decision, and we might die on the road? yeah. so it's second—guessing yourself the whole time. we are out, we are past it. toni gasps jesus christ. toni's house survived, but 85 homes in her town were destroyed in the november fire. we had nearly 100 fires and probablyjust under half of them were not contained. 0n the worst of the days in november there, i think we got to 17 fires burning concurrently at emergency warning alert level. so, you're talking the highest level of risk, you're talking the highest level of exposure and the potential for the greatest loss.
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strong winds spread the fires across the dry forests of new south wales. a volunteer firefighter in the small town of hillville recorded his journey. it was really difficult to see. we had trees burning on either side. we were worried about them coming down. visibility was about two metres or so in front. the smoke was just so thick you just could not see through it. last summer broke records in australia. in each of its six states temperatures topped a0 degrees celsius. the intense heat helped to create mega blazes where two or more bushfires meet. villages in the blue mountains, just 50 minutes‘ drive from sydney, were at the mercy of the flames.
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that's massive, man. i have never seen that before. i actually noticed when a small spot fire started up, maybe 400 metres away from where we were, there was a helicopter, water bomber, picked it up, actually was trying to put it out, but the bush was so dry it had no hope. and then, very quickly, it started spotting even closer and, within minutes, suddenly there were huge flames bearing down on us. the noise of the fire we could hear coming up the valley, the embers were getting thicker and falling faster, erm, and then we could actually see flame. yeah, spot fires galore down here. we're talking about 60, 70—metre flame height. 60, 70—metre flame height. radio chatter copy that. captain duff led a team of male and female
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volunteer firefighters. this was one of many emergency calls for help. the flame heights were jumping to the 60, 70—metre mark, well in excess of the crown of the trees. the spot fires were just developing rapidly everywhere, all the way around us. that is insane. ijust saw a fire tornado. there was no chance we were going to stop it. it was so big, there was so much flame everywhere that, i mean, wejust had some little hoses. jochen, with staff and neighbours, fought to save the eco—cabin resort where he worked. it was at that point it sort of got a little bit chaotic for me and, yeah, i probably got a bit, quite a bit scared, actually. erm, not sure where to go. looked like everywhere was burning. and, yeah, it was a good few minutes where i really, i thought i was going to get burnt badly or this might be it.
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they sheltered in a fire bunker. when they emerged, the cabins were still standing, but almost everything else was gone. siren wails fire truck radio: requesting assistance. 0ver. who's that down! —— hose. in mid—december, two volunteer firefighters were amongst the first rescue workers to pay the highest price. i think it was not short ofjust before midnight that i got a phone call from my deputy who indicated that they'd got reports from the field about an awful accident involving some firefighters and the reports were for serious injuries and potentially fatalities. reporter: the loss of two volunteer firefighters who died last night while fighting a blaze south—west of sydney represents a grim, new,
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low point in the current bushfire emergency. deputy captain geoffrey keaton and firefighter andrew 0'dwyer were killed when a falling tree caused their vehicle to roll. it completely guts you. but not only a fatality, a double fatality depriving us of two extraordinary individuals. there is nothing you can prepare for, for that. there's no rule book for that. at the end of the year, fires raged in australia's southernmost mainland state, victoria. 0ne family living on a remote farm became engulfed. it was a monday and for the past few days, the sky had been looking really smoky. so we were just keeping an eye out all day watching the sky and by the afternoon, things really started picking up and the skyjust constantly was changing colour and itjust
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got darker and darker and darker until the fires hit us. oh! 0h! kangaroo! it really seemed to smash us, being on top of the hill, fairly rapidly and it wasn't one single wind direction the whole time. it was like the sky was filled with insects that were flying in every direction and you could be getting burnt on the front of your face and backs of my ears at the same time. father and daughter shaun and india have just three tanks of water to protect the house and outbuildings. the smoke that was being blown directly at me was just the thickest smoke i've ever experienced. it was... yeah, my main issue and fear
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was the amount of smoke i was breathing in. ugh! oh, no! no, no, no. the hose is gone! i don't know how that would've gone if that hose was actually completely screwed, because the structure that was on fire, our house, that was the closest the fire got to our house and it was quite scary because i thought we were going to lose the house but... yep. ..somehow we both got to that structure on time and sort of dealt with it. 0ne one of the trees here has caught on fire! dad!
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panting it would've been a good hour—and—a—half where it was quite intense and we were running around quite crazily and then... ..the wind did start to die down and it was quite a big relief then, knowing that the worst of it had passed and that we were going to be ok. they made it by the skin of their teeth. and i'm just absolutely amazed at how well india did with it. i know many adults that were panicking too early and had left, ran away, and i couldn't have blamed india for wanting to do that but she wanted to stay and, yeah, i'll forever be very proud of what i saw her doing that night.
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it was, yeah, amazing. in december, the historic town of cobargo saw a level of destruction usually reserved for war zones. the damage took my breath away. ronnie ayliffe leads me through the shattered village. it's pretty tough to live next to this and see all of the things that were in my street. the localfarmer had filmed what had happened. us — myself and my wife were quite lucky. it sort of burnt to the creek and then went around us to a degree, took all the back end of our farm out. but from me onwards, it was like a war zone. aaron salway‘s family have been dairy farmers here for five generations. i kept ringing my brother, which is my neighbour. erm, is he 0k? and he said it was on hell for leather for him. i tried ringing my dad and my other brother. couldn't raise them
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so ijustjumped in the ute. and i didn't know my ute could jump logs two—foot high, but it did, on the road. erm... i got to my parents' place and my mother was sitting on the porch outside with her head in her lap, saying, "they're gone." and that wasjust... i didn't know what to feel, i didn't... i sort of looked where they were. and they were, yeah, they were gone, they were gone. it was, it was terrible. they were only 40 metres from the house. something must've, like a fireball, must've just dropped on them and... yeah, it was tough, it was tough. yeah. aaron lost his father and his brother patrick. it's beyond hard. erm... you know, it's, erm, hard for... ..hard for patrick because he's left a three—year—old kid behind.
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erm... i sort of... ..want to step up to be like a, you know, a father to his son. erm, you know, he's going to need that guidance a little bit. i really feel that patrick would want that. amid the loss and pain, there were stories of survival too. ah, yes. do you remember seeing that one? yes, i do remember seeing that one. yes, because that truck actually got destroyed. this video went viral, filmed literally in the heat of battle by firefighters in south nowra, new south wales. jasper croft is in the lead vehicle. it was quite a sunny day. there was no clouds in the sky other than that
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large smoke cloud. kayle barton is in one behind. we were driving along, we could see a long way into the distance there was considerable amount of smoke, so we knew something was going on down there but we didn't know to what extent. it turned from day to night within a matter of seconds. we started experiencing an ember attack. when we proceeded down the road, the wind started to change direction and we noticed the ember attack was getting heavier and faster. it wasn't till we got around the final bend that my driver just said, "no way, this is way too dangerous, "we can actually see the fire front now." we were about 50 metres behind the lead truck and i heard the lead truck, which was jasper and his crew, they were putting messages through that what they could see 50 metres ahead was quite dangerous and they were going to retreat. and, at that moment, myself and my crew, we saw
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exactly what they could see. we saw the flames had turned and were coming straight towards our convoy. one of my crew members, danny, he put up the fire blanket to keep that radiant heat from coming through the windows. the heat, the flames, we could feel that heat coming through the truck. we could see the flames coming in horizontally, which is very unusual to be in a situation to see flames moving horizontally in front of the windscreen and around the truck. we managed to get the truck turned around and facing the direction we had come from and were beginning to make our retreat when the truck came to a complete standstill.
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we believed the air brakes had melted or been destroyed by the flames which caused the brakes to lock on, making the truck unable to move. so we were just sitting there having to wait it out inside the truck with flames hitting the side of it and smoke starting to creep in through the truck doors. so this is probably the hardest part for us is when we were going around kayle's truck, we were receiving messages saying, "flashover, flashover, our truck is dead, our truck is dead." what do we do? do we drive past them and leave them? do we stop?
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do we try and save them? at this stage, the emotions are sort of starting, a bit heavy in there, we're trying to stay calm but we're sort of panicking. if we went back to help these guys we would've put ourselves in danger and more than likely would've been suffocated. we came up with a plan that, when it was safe to exit, we were going to all get out and put our breathing equipment on and we knew that the safest way for us to get out at that moment was to walk a kilometre back to safety would be a quicker, safer option than sitting tight in our burning truck, waiting for assistance to come to us. so we got out, we put our breathing equipment on. all four of us were safe at this point and uninjured and we were able to make the walk out. all the firefighters survived to bear witness to their extraordinary escape. but across australia nine of their colleagues died trying to save others from the fire.
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reporter: well, as the year and the decade come to an end, the country is burning. it's been labelled the worst fire season ever recorded. what's been called an apocalypse, a nightmare, looking like the gates of hell. seeing in the new year brought little cheer. 0n the south coast flames and fire ushered in 2020 as holiday resorts burned. yeah, we were definitely expecting just the standard, beautiful mallacoota holiday, full of being outdoors, being in the sun, being with family and friends and that's certainly not how it panned out. it went from like a really thick, dusty, grey—orange colour of the smoke to really bright red, to then pitch—black. and that was... i think it was 8am on new year's eve that it was
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completely dark as if it was the dead of night. sirens, radio chatter as alarms sounded, it was too late to escape by land. radio chatter when the sirens went off on the fire trucks, we all got together and got in the two boats, 13 of us, and literally by torchlight, we took it very slowly and we went about 500 metres offshore. we had the abc radio on in the boat so we were listening to constant updates. we had our masks on, we had hoods on, towels wrapped around our face and we just sat there in silence. when they got back to shore, they found close to 100 homes in their resort had been destroyed.
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at the same time, thousands were stranded on the south coast of new south wales. we made the decision we were going to stay and we were going to go to the beach. madelene kelly was also on holiday. as fire swept in, she recorded what happened. i remember just being physically pushed by the winds, like, that was the scariest moment for me. i was trying to stay calm because there were kids screaming. oh... i'm, like, shaking. there were kids screaming on the beach. there were heaps of gas bottles exploding, i think maybe some cars, i don't really know. we just heard sounds and we saw fire where we thought our houses were. we could see that some houses had already been completely, like, razed. there was not even a structure left. it was completely flattened. at another tourist spot 70 miles away, david petrovic
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and his family were forced to abandon their holiday home and seek safety on a nearby lake. as the fires approached, er, we alljumped in the boat pretty quickly. looking back in the boat from the lake, it was hard to see anything, the smoke was that intense. the fires were burning, it was so hot. the wind was raging through there, i couldn't even keep the boat straight in the water. the lady next door was in the water up to her waist. she wouldn't get in the boat but her house... ..burnt down within 20 minutes. it happened that quickly. kangaroos were jumping in through the water, steam coming off them. it was horrific what we saw and it's something that i never want to see again.
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but there were more horrors as the fire spread on kangaroo island, eight miles off the southern coast. it's renowned for its unique wildlife. all of a sudden it was right upon us, like, within seconds. and we had time to say, "get in the house." we got in the house and itjust exploded all around us. peter davis, a local beekeeper, is visiting his son ben. suddenly they're trapped. whoa!
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as we were driving away, we drove slowly because there was still lots of dust and smoke but we could see for vast distances where before you couldn't see further than the side of the road because there were no leaves on trees, there was just burnt sticks. there were dead animals everywhere, kangaroos, possums, koalas. 25,000 koalas alone may have perished. nearly half the island was burned. there are fears that the scorched earth may never recover.
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in february, australia's fires largely burnt out. the months of the destruction left a terrible legacy. it's thought nearly three billion animals had died or been displaced across australia. the cost to the tourism, hospitality, agriculture and forestry industries could be well over $3 billion. at least 33 people died. while smoke inhalation may have caused hundreds more premature deaths. this fire i'll never forget. erm... i don't think my kids will ever forget it. it's sort of something that's going to be so scarred into my brain, erm, i don't
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ever want to see it again. i think it's a turning point, that's how i'm going to remember it. it's going to be a turning point for everyone in australia, a lot of people worldwide as well, i think, just seeing the devastation of these fires. the new bushfire season has already begun. there's been more rain this year, which might dampen the severity this time round. but a recent inquiry says climate change clearly played a role last year and warned such devastation is likely to happen again. australia must prepare itself.
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