3 dead, dozens injured as Australia wildfires raze homes

Around 1,500 firefighters were battling more than 70 fires across Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2019

3 dead, dozens injured as Australia wildfires raze homes

  • Around 1,500 firefighters were battling more than 70 fires across Australia’s most populous state
  • At least 150 homes had been destroyed since Friday

CANBERRA, Australia: Wildfires razing Australia’s drought-stricken east coast have left three people dead and several missing, more than 30 injured and over 150 homes destroyed, officials said Saturday.
Around 1,500 firefighters were battling more than 70 fires across Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, with the most intense in the northeast, where flames were fanned by strong winds, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
A woman who was found unconscious and with serious burns Friday near Glen Innes died in a hospital, he said.
Her daughter-in-law Chrystal Harwood identified the victim as 69-year-old grandmother Vivian Chaplain, who was alone in her house in the small community of Wytaliba when it was engulfed in flames.
“I was the last one to speak to her. She was in an absolute panic. She said: ‘We’re on fire. There’s fire everywhere. I need the boys here now,’” Harwood told Nine Network television of their final phone call.
“Before I even got to tell her to just get out, she’d hung up on me. I couldn’t get back through to her. I tried so many times,” Harwood said. “She was amazing. She was such a strong, loving woman.”
On Friday, Harwood made a desperate plea on social media for someone to come to Chaplain’s rescue.
“Viv is alone can someone help, anyone please ... boys are on the way down if they can get through,” Harwood posted. “’The RFS can’t get to her they are trying ... the road down is a tunnel of fire.”
Firefighters found another body on Saturday in a burned car near Glen Innes, a victim of the same fire, officials said. The local man’s name has not been released.
A third body was found Saturday afternoon in a burned building at Johns River, north of Taree, a police statement said. That victim died in a fire hundreds of kilometers (miles) from Glen Innes.
Another seven people have been reported missing in the vicinity of the Glen Innes fire, Fitzsimmons said.
“We are expecting that number (of missing people) to climb today,” he said. “There are really grave concerns that there could be more losses or indeed more fatalities.”
More than 30 people including firefighters received medical treatment for burns and one patient had cardiac arrest, he said.
At least 150 homes had been destroyed since Friday, and damage assessment teams had yet to reach some devastated areas, a Rural Fire Service statement said. Residents could not yet return because of the dangers of fire, smoke and loose asbestos in the rubble, the statement said.
Hundreds of people evacuated their homes along a 500-kilometer swath of the eastern seaboard from the Queensland state border south to Forster.
Forster is a town 300 kilometers north of Sydney, Australia’s largest city. Many spent the night in evacuation centers, while some slept in cars.
In Queensland, around 50 wildfires were raging on Saturday. At least one house was lost, a firefighter suffered a broken leg and 6,000 residents were evacuated from three communities in the state’s southeast, police said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australia to expect more bad news from the fire zones. His warning came before the third victim was confirmed.
“The devastating and horrific fires that we have seen particularly in New South Wales but also in Queensland have been absolutely chilling,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
The Insurance Council of Australia declared the wildfire crisis a “catastrophe,” meaning insurance claims will be given priority.


Turkey tries to shed light on White Helmets founder’s death

Updated 3 min 23 sec ago

Turkey tries to shed light on White Helmets founder’s death

  • James Le Mesurier’s body was found near his home in Istanbul early Monday
  • Turkish police believe he fell to his death from his home and are investigating the circumstances

ANKARA: Turkish officials were performing an autopsy and other procedures Tuesday as they tried to understand how a former British officer who helped found the White Helmets volunteer aid group in Syria died.
James Le Mesurier’s body was found near his home in Istanbul early Monday by worshippers on their way to morning prayers. Turkish police believe he fell to his death from his home and are investigating the circumstances. Last week a top Russian official had claimed he was a spy, something Britain strongly denies.
The Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office said an autopsy and other procedures were underway at Istanbul’s Forensic Medicine Institute to determine “the exact cause” of his death. It also said police were still in the process of gathering security camera recordings near the scene and assessing them.
Earlier, Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya told reporters: “Our chief prosecutor’s office, our police are engaged in multifaceted efforts to shed light on the incident.”
Le Mesurier was the founder and CEO of May Day Rescue, which established and trained the White Helmets, also known as the Syria Civil Defense, a group of local humanitarian volunteers.
The group, which has had more than 3,000 volunteers in opposition-held areas, says it has saved thousands of lives since 2013 and documented Syrian government attacks on civilians and other infrastructure. The group has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but has not won.
Last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Le Mesurier of being a former British agent working in the Balkans and the Middle East. She alleged he had “been spotted all around the world, including in the Balkans and the Middle East.”
Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, denied those allegations Monday, saying “the Russian charges against him, that came out of Foreign Ministry that he was a spy, are categorically untrue.”
She also said Britain would be “looking very closely” at the Turkish authorities’ investigation into Le Mesurier’s death.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported that he was 48 and had moved to Turkey with his wife four years ago.