Australia — Ms Gadams said that in discussions with landowners in northwest WA, the many spot fires that had been burning for weeks were merely considered “part of the landscape”.
In fact a lone crocodile sunning itself near a creek crossing was considered a greater safety risk than the fires.
“Not a single person mentioned there was a risk of fires,” Ms Gadams said yesterday. “Everyone who lives in the Kimberley accepts there are grass fires burning all the time … it is part of the landscape.”
When a crocodile was observed near a creek crossing, Ms Gadams said they organised for a 4WD to ferry runners across as a precaution.
“Believe it or not, we took a super cautious approach,” she said.
Fleeing the flames of absolute hell
Ms Gadams also revealed local gyrocopter pilot John Storey had tried to warn race organisers of a significant fire developing near the second checkpoint at Salerno Gorge.
Ms Gadams said for some reason that message was considered “not one of urgency” until an hour later when a volunteer was sent to have a look.
About 30 minutes later several runners became trapped by a 2km-wide fire front that tore through the gorge, leaving five people – including Ms Gadams, who was competing in the race – suffering burns.
Mining engineer and part-time model Turia Pitt, 24, of Ulludulla, and Victorian Kate Sanderson, 35, remain in a critical condition after suffering burns to 80-90 per cent of their bodies.
Desert cowboys ‘had no idea’
South African Martin Van Der Merwe, 56, and Central Coast father-of-three Michael Hull, 44, are in Royal Perth Hospital with 20 per cent burns.
Ms Gadams, the US-born CEO of the Hong Kong-based adventure company, denied claims that organisers failed to notify local police or the Fire and Emergency Services Authority of WA (FESA) prior to the race, citing “email proof” both were made aware.
She said organisers sought permits from the owners of El Questro Wilderness Area, Carlton/Ivanhoe and Doon Doon stations to hold the race and also advised the local council, the WA Department of Environment and Conservation and Kununurra Hospital.
Ms Gadams has since returned to Hong Kong but yesterday re-scheduled further treatment for burns to the backs of her legs, arms and hands to “get the whole story out there”.
“Given our safety standards, if there was any risk we would have completely changed things,” she said of the decision to proceed with the race.
“Safety is and always will be our first priority. All our thoughts and prayers ate with Turia Pitt and Kate Sanderson – that’s where our main focus is.”