A WEST Cork family who took a year out to live in Australia have spoken of the sheer terror that the bushfires have caused to their adopted home.
Diarmuid and Jean Grainger from Cloughduv, along with their two daughters Éadaoin (11) and Siobhán (8), took off last July for a adventure of a lifetime in sunny Australia when bushfire scenes were far from their mind.
Speaking to The Southern Star from their current base at Norah Head in New South Wales, Diarmuid – who teaches at Bishop Galvin Central School in Newcestown – said they’re keeping a close eye on the disaster which has so far claimed the lives of 24 people and about one billion animals, as well as wiping out numerous towns and villages.
‘We’ve been here at Norah Head for the past week, which is about two hours north of Sydney. The fires are about 30 kms away and we discreetly check the wind speed and wind direction every couple of hours and can see smoke haze most days,’ said Diarmuid.
‘Although we are not in danger, it is still frightening to think that certain villages that we have been to recently are out of bounds or maybe even destroyed.’
They are also conscious of not panicking their two daughters who so far have been enjoying their trip across the country.
‘Santa Claus bought the two girls membership to a koala hospital so they feel they’re doing some good, as so many koala bears have already died.’
The Graingers are planning a trip to Tasmania in their 4x4 and caravan for a few weeks but plans could easily change.
‘We had planned to see Canberra first, but it’s now rated as the city with the worst air quality in the world. We expect, as time goes on, to hear that many roads, if not whole regions, will be closed off to the public. But when you look at the bigger picture, these inconveniences to us are – in the words of the great Humphrey Bogart – like a hill of beans.’
Diarmuid is also keen to praise the ‘fireys’ – the volunteer members of the fire services – who he said are the real heroes of the hour.
‘There is a great tradition in Australia of civic participation, none more strong than in the volunteer fire service, whose members are battling the flames far from home and depending on the kindness of the locals for food and shelter.’
He said it was hard to believe that over 20 people have so far been arrested on suspicion of starting fires maliciously.
Meanwhile, Jacinta Warren – who runs Warren Collections in Bandon – and is on holidays in Sydney visiting her daughter Grace, said that Wednesday this week was the first day that they couldn’t go outside. ‘I’ve been here a week now and today is the first day that we couldn’t go outside. There was very heavy smog since early morning and smells very smoky yet the fires are about 125kms from here,’ said Jacinta.
‘I spent a few days up the coast at the weekend and it was clear, but I guess the biggest issue here is the air quality and it’s hazardous and we see a lot of people wearing masks.’