Sydney’s black smoke likely killed 445 people … four times Covid

Nine News reports that smoke from Australia’s Black Summer blazes killed hundreds of people and had an unprecedented $2 billion health impact, with experts warning it will take years for bushfire survivors to recover from the trauma.The total economic damage from the Black Summer bushfires has been estimated at $3.6 billion, the royal commission into the disaster has been told.Experts estimate 80 per cent of the Australian population was adversely affected by smoke from the Black Summer bushfires.

While the fires themselves killed 33 people, the University of Tasmania researchers estimate the smoke caused 445 premature deaths.They determined there were 3340 admissions to hospital for heart and lung-related problems and 1373 additional presentations to emergency departments for asthma due to the smoke.”Smoke can travel hundreds of kilometres and affect communities hundreds, sometimes thousands, of kilometres from where the fires are,” Associate Professor Fay Johnston told the royal commission on Tuesday.”It affects numerically far more people than the actual fire.”

People left vulnerable during bushfires, as air quality levels were not accurate

The Canberra Times reports that the failings of systems used to record the dangerous level of bushfire smoke in the air this summer will be examined as part of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

An issues paper released by the Royal Commission on Friday confirmed the issue of bushfire smoke would form part of investigations. “As the bushfire smoke that blanketed large parts of Australia in early 2020 may demonstrate, the effect of natural disasters can be widespread,” the issues paper stated.

“The commission has received a substantial number of submissions from members of the community, health organisations and charities, in relation to the impacts of bushfire smoke on Australians.

“Many in the community were concerned with the impact of prolonged exposure to bushfire smoke on their health and the health of their families.”

Bushfire Royal Commission hears hundreds of species driven closer to extinction

The Daily Telegraph reported that the Black Summer bushfires were an “ecological disaster” that has pushed Australia’s threatened species to the brink of extinction.

On Wednesday, The Royal Commission into the bushfires examined the impact of the fires on Australia’s unique natural environment and heard many of the most vulnerable creatures were directly in the fire’s path.

More than 8 million hectares of land was burned in the past fire season and 45 per cent, or 3.7 million hectares, of that land was nature conservation reserve, the commission previously heard.

The Commonwealth’s threatened species commissioner Sally Box told the commission the fires were declared an “ecological disaster” in January. But they continued to burn for weeks after that.

Of Australia’s 1800 threatened species, 327 were in the fire’s path and had at least 10 per cent of their known distribution damaged. “The entire known range of some species was burned,” she said. 49 species lost more than 80 per cent of their habitat and a further 65 species lost 50 per cent of theirs.

After the bushfires, we helped choose the animals and plants in most need. Here’s how we did it

The Conversation reported on how the wildlife experts selected the plants and animals that needed to be saved. Full story is here.

Australia, you have unfinished business. It’s time to let our ‘fire people’ care for this land

Since last summer’s bushfire crisis, there’s been a quantum shift in public awareness of Aboriginal fire management. It’s now more widely understood that Aboriginal people used landscape burning to sustain biodiversity and suppress large bushfires.

The Morrison government’s bushfire royal commission, which began hearings this week, recognises the potential of incorporating Aboriginal knowledge into mainstream fire management.

Its terms of reference seek to understand ways “the traditional land and fire management practices of Indigenous Australians could improve Australia’s resilience to natural disasters”.

The Conversation’s full story is here.

Alex Schofield announced as recipient of the 2020 NSW RFS Young Leader Scholarship

Congratulations to Alex Schofield of the Kundabung RFS Brigade on winning the 2020 NSW RFS Young Leadership Scholarship. The Macleay Argus has the full story.

Surf community assist South Coast bushfire victims

The South Coast Register reports that Surfing NSW has teamed up with Empty Esky to help promote tourism and support local businesses, ahead of the Queens Birthday long weekend.

With COVID-19 restrictions easing on June 1, it is expected to see an increase of people exploring and getting out of the house.

Due to the horrific summer of bushfires, domestic tourism took a 4.5 billion dollar loss. To assist the recovery, the Surfing NSW and Empty Esky have created two itineraries which will promote surf tourism and aid the bushfire affected communities.

Major funding boost to explore the health impacts of recent bushfires

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, Hunter Medical Research Institute and Hunter New England Health have excelled in the latest round of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding, attracting more than $860,000 to analyse the physiological and mental health effects of hazardous bushfire smoke.

Newcastle Universiaty reports that in light of the recent devastating bushfires across Australia, the NHMRC Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research Initiative (EDCDR) will fund a two-year project led by conjoint Professor Peter Gibson a Senior Staff Specialist at the John Hunter Hospital, to explore the impacts of prolonged exposure of bushfire smoke on vulnerable groups, such as pregnant and breastfeeding women with mild asthma, and adults with severe asthma.

“By examining the experiences of those who were suffering from asthma at the time of the devastating bushfires last year and at the beginning of this year, we’ll be working to ascertain the impact on quality of life, mental health, respiratory symptoms, lung function and, in mothers with asthma, the impact on perinatal outcomes and infant feeding,” Professor Gibson said.

“Using data collected before, during and after the bushfire exposure period, we’ll be assessing the effectiveness of exposure reduction strategies. We’ll also be examining biological samples from our participants to look at the presence and extent of contaminants present.”

Hazard reduction fast-tracked with 100 extra full-time RFS firefighters

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Berejklian government will fast-track hazard reduction ahead of the bushfire season, employing 100 extra full-time Rural Fire Service firefighters to help prepare for summer.

As many as 20 of the positions will be for Indigenous firefighters so the government can tap into their expertise. The boost will take the number of full-time firefighters in the volunteer service to 260. The jobs are part of a $45 million investment, which will also see the government buy 120 new and 70 refurbished fire trucks for the RFS.

Critical cross-border interstate communication missing at height of Black Summer bushfires

The ABC reported that as a bushfire roared towards the Murray River the day before New Year’s Eve, firefighters on either side of the state border couldn’t talk to each other.

On the Victorian side of the river, Walwa local Robert Newnham and his fellow volunteer firefighters still have vivid memories of watching the fire approach from New South Wales that day. “We could see the fire, we could see that there was people there, we didn’t know what they were doing or what was coming our way really, we were just guessing,” he said. “We needed to know a lot more so that we could prepare more for what was coming our way.”

Despite the NSW fire crew being within about a kilometre, Mr Newhnam said they had no way of communicating with them.

That’s because different state fire and emergency services operate on different radio networks and in some instances different agencies within states also operate on different networks.

On the NSW side of the border, Community Safety Officer for the Jingellic Rural Fire Service (RFS), Mary Hoodless, said it had been a problem for the 35 years she had been in the border region.

“It’s an issue on every occasion and it was exacerbated on this occasion,” she said. “For me, it’s like, where’s the common platform? You know, the technology’s there. Why haven’t we got it?”

Volunteer firefighters deserve equal protection

The Canberra Times reported that Amelia Maria had used a compensation payout to purchase full-face P3 masks for her late husband’s old brigade. Amelia Maria’s husband, Michael Maria, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer linked to smoke inhalation and exposure to chemicals released in fires, in 2012. Mr Maria had been a volunteer firefighter in Queanbeyan and his death in 2013 was acknowledged by the NSW Rural Fire Service as a result of his servic

The new masks, although expensive, should dramatically limit the Queanbeyan brigade’s exposure to the harmful chemicals which likely caused Mr Maria’s illness. This type of mask – which protects the whole face – had already been made available to 400 paid NSW firefighters, but not volunteers. The ACT’s professional firefighters also have them, but the volunteers do not.

Coronavirus and bushfire-affected regional cheesemakers turn to ‘rescue boxes’ as tourism dries up

The ABC reports that bushfiress meant the usually booming summer season was a wipe-out for many regional cheese businesses with cellar-door operations.

When tourists were ordered to stay away from fire-affected regions, Milawa Cheese in north-east Victoria was left with hundreds of kilograms of ripe cheese. “It wasn’t going to last, it would have to be given or thrown away,” cheesemaker Ceridwen Brown said.

Cheese Therapy, an online specialty-cheese retailer in Queensland, came to the rescue. It put out an SOS on Facebook asking its cheese loving followers to buy a “rescue box” to help Milawa out.

Family-sized bushfire pods could be available for local bushfire victims

The Standard reports that nw family-sized temporary accommodation pods could be delivered to bushfire victims in the NSW New England.

A number of small four-person pods have already been delivered to the region. But Minderoo Foundation and the NSW Government this week took delivery of the first larger, 6-person pods.

The pods are designed to provide temporary accommodation for people made homeless by last year’s Black Summer bushfires.

eputy Premier John Barilaro, who also has responsibility for disaster recovery, said they had received a “positive response” from the initial small pod roll out.

“The natural next step was to look at what can be provided for larger families of up to six,” he said.

“The bushfires that swept across the state last summer were unprecedented, and so is the recovery.”

More than 100 20-foot pods will be rolled out across NSW. They are designed to house small families, singles or couples and feature four beds.

The family-sized pods, which can fit on the back of a truck, are designed to fit six beds, including a double bed for the parents.

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