January 11, 2020 / 6:00 AM / in a month

Australia gets relief, respite as bushfires spare remote villages

TOWAMBA, Australia (Reuters) - Fearing the worst from approaching bushfires, most of the roughly 230 people living in the village of Towamba in Australia’s southeast left.

Volunteer firefighters rest at the RFS station, as bushfires continue, in Shannons Flat, Australia January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tracey Nearmy

But the fire has spared the village and some nearby, located about 540 km (336 miles) by road from Sydney. At least for now.

The few who stayed behind in Towamba to fight spot flames and stop embers from setting their homes alight gathered on Saturday in the village hall, where supplies had been prepared and someone’s vintage 1932 Chevrolet parked for safety. 

“The authorities have been working overtime to put down a containment area and they were here last night ready to defend us, but there wasn’t a lot of fire really,” said Ian Lindsey, 64, as he sipped a cup of coffee.

“Anyone who needed to had retreated. I’m not surprised, last weekend was intense.”

After weeks of unpredictable fires claiming 27 lives, thousands of homes and more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land, Australia got a reprieve with cooler temperatures and rainfall.

But the air in Towamba, were the military was clearing felled, fire-damaged trees, was still stinging hot, dry and the sky filled with a thick haze. The only passable route in the village was rocky at places and still under construction.

Paul Kranhold, a 52-year-old tiler, said last week’s approaching fires had sounded like planes duelling in the sky. Nonetheless, he stayed to fend for his house.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking last night as that wind changed,” he said, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette.

“I’ve got a four-bedroom house so I thought if I can save that, then I can take in those people whose homes are gone. They can come stay here because there’s nowhere for many of them to go.”

Reporting by Martin Petty; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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