Death toll from fires rises to 23 and 6 people missing as Australian PM calls in military

Efforts also underway to save animals

AUSTRALIA – The death toll from the wildfire is 23 people and six people are missing, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. There are more than 200 fires burning across the country.

Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced Saturday that his government will send Australia’s largest warship, HMAS Adelaide, to help the evacuation efforts on the Victorian coast to rescue people cut-off by fires. He also called up 3,000 army reservists to help and will put $20 million towards leasing four more water-bombing aircraft.

“We are facing another extremely difficult next 24 hours,” said Morrison during a televised news conference Saturday. “In recent times, particularly over the course of the balance of this week, we have seen this disaster escalate to an entirely new level.”

The bodies of the two people were found in a burned-out car on a highway after a fire burned through Kangaroo Island. They were identified as Dick Lang, 78, a bush pilot and safari operator, and his son Clayton, 43, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon.

The east coasts of Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria were devastated by fires that destroyed more than 1,500 homes.

People are fleeing New South Wales to escape the fires.

Efforts are also underway by several organizations to help rescue animals.

Anyone wanting to help the animals in Australia can send money to Wildlife Rescue group WIRES

“It is impossible to estimate the number of native animals that have perished or how many more will be lost in the fires, or to predict the impact that dire food and water shortages, as well as habitat loss caused by the fires and drought, will have on wild populations,” says WIRES on its website.

WIRES CEO Leanne Taylor said many animals were already struggling with a lack of water and food due to the ongoing drought. Now, with bushfires destroying over 3.4 million hectares of habitat in NSW, our wildlife is facing significant long-term challenges.    

WIRES has received over 20,000 calls from the public in December, an increase of 2500 calls on the previous December and fire-affected rescues continue to rise as volunteers are given permission to access the fire zones.

Another organization helping wildlife is Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, which is taking donations as well.

Updated Jan. 4, 9:45 p.m.

George Brownwell / Alberta Press

-george@albertapressleader.ca

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