Fires threaten wildlife, remote communities

Fires threaten wildlife, remote communities

16 October 2011

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Australia — Three lightning strikes sparked a blaze at Newhaven Sanctuary, a conservation park for threatened wildlife species about 350km northwest of Alice Springs, last week.

Five researchers from Macquarie University in NSW along with the two park managers and their children, had to huddle in the open as the firestorm roared towards them.

Manager Sonia Bazzacco said she could see insects and birds fleeing before the inferno.

“It was 37C and it was travelling like a storm,” she said.

“It travelled 20km in one and a half hours.”

“We evacuated and stood in a safe spot next to a shed where there was a large dirt area with no fuel for the fire. It came 400 metres from us.”

The house was spared but the managers were last night fighting to protect the habitat of the endangered great desert skink.

The park, run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, covers 262,000 hectares and is a haven for many threatened species, including the princess parrot, mulgara, and the greater bilby.

The bushfires, in multiple locations, have burnt out more than 200,000 square kilometres of bushland already and have been burning since last month.

Exhausted station-owners, pastoralists, volunteer firefighters and emergency services are battling the blazes round-the-clock.

Bushfires NT senior regional fire control officer Sue Whatley said several fires were burning across the Alice Springs region with some roads cut due to smoke.

On Friday night, fire crews fought to protect the Aboriginal community of Willowra, 330km northwest of Alice Springs.

The blaze on Undoolya station has been contained, while another has erupted on Phillip Creek Station, near Tennant Creek.

Aboriginal communities in the area are being protected by backburning.

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