Published on Youth Journalism International's website, an organisation that provides a free education for young people in any country who are interested in journalism, current events and getting to know their peers across the globe.
Australia is in the midst of a bushfire crisis, a summer that can’t be compared to any other. Tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes and holiday destinations, while millions more breathe in hazardous air across the country.
For 17-year-old Billilee Williams, the fires turned her family holiday on the coastal town of Mallacoota into a tense nightmare of thick smoke and burning ash.
Mallacoota is a small town in Victoria’s Gippsland region, in the southeast of the state. The community, accessible by one road in and out, boasts just over 1,000 locals. But, in peak periods such as the current summer holidays, it can be home to an extra 8,000 tourists.
Residents and tourists in Mallacoota awoke on Monday, Dec. 30 to discover the bushfire crisis was heading their way.
The sky was full of thick grey smoke and the state’s VicEmergency mobile app was sending alert after alert to those within the small township.
“All you could see was the bright orange glow of the fire,” said Williams, an Ararat College student. Her family holidays were about to take a turn for the worst.
Late in the afternoon, the community met at the pier, along with police, ambulance services and Country Fire Authority members.
Emergency responders spoke to the crowd, calming many nerves but also admitting that they themselves didn’t know where the fire was. They told the assembled that the fire was expected to hit the township at midnight.
“We waited and waited, it didn’t hit,” Williams said. “Then we were told 3 a.m. We continued to wait.”
She awoke at 6 a.m. to an orange horizon, caused by the growing fires and not the expected sun. The fire hadn’t arrived just yet but “ash was falling from the sky like rain,” she said.
Soon, the fire reached Mallacoota.
“At 8 a.m., the fire hit the town. People were frightened and worried. The smoke was still extremely thick,” Williams said. “the sky still pitch black. I was unable to see anything but the bright orange glow of the fires.”
She continued, “No matter where you stood you could see flames everywhere. People start running to places along the pier and boat ramps to see a better view.”