Australia wildfires: Former PM volunteering as firefighter runs into burning building

One-time leader of country’s Liberal Party volunteers with Ingleside Rural Fire Service brigade along Sydney’s northern beaches

Samuel Lovett@samueljlovett
Monday 06 January 2020 13:02
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Former Australian PM Tony Abbott runs into burning building while volunteering in wildfire effort

Tony Abbott, the former prime minister of Australia, has been filmed running into a burning house as part of efforts to tackle the bushfires raging along the country’s southeast coast.

The one-time leader of the Liberal Party, who was prime minister from September 2013 to 2015, volunteers with the Ingleside Rural Fire Service brigade along Sydney’s northern beaches.

In footage released by the brigade over the weekend, Mr Abbott, equipped in breathing apparatus, can be seen running to extinguish a house fire in Bendalong, a coastal town three hours south of Sydney.

“Our Ingleside Strike Team Leader and his team, including our former Prime Minister Tony Abbott were first into the street,” the service said in a statement on its Facebook page.

“A number of fire trucks were deployed into the street. Sheds and caravans were lost, but all houses were saved. Temperatures were 45C (113F) with 45km/h hot winds.

“Tony used BA on 4 occasions on Saturday including at 2 structure fires. Great to see Tony working hard as he always does when he volunteers with the RFS.

“The 5 tanker Strike Team lead by our Ingleside officers worked in terrible fire conditions due to heat & strong winds. The fire impacted Bendalong & #Manyana communities.”

Mr Abbott’s fire-tackling efforts follow his recent assertion that the world is caught in “the grip of a climate cult” – despite evidence that Australia’s bushfire crisis is being fuelled by record-high temperatures.

“While we still seem to be in the grip of a climate cult, the climate cult is going to produce policy outcomes that will cause people to wake up to themselves,” Mr Abbott said during an interview on Israeli radio last month.

“Sooner or later, in the end, people get hit over the head by reality,” the 62-year-old added.

Experts say a combination of extreme heat, prolonged drought and strong winds have exacerbated the seasonal fires, with the country experiencing an unprecedented heatwave. Record temperatures have occurred regularly over the last three months with the country’s hottest day ever – an average 41.9C – being charted on 18 December.

The bushfires have so far killed 24 people, destroyed more than 1,500 homes and torn through more than four million hectares of land.

Although rainfall has brought some relief to the fire-ravaged parts of Australia, officials have warned that the blazes will “take off” again – with Victoria and New South Wales particularly vulnerable.

Mr Abbott’s actions follow recent criticism of current prime minister Scott Morrison, who took a holiday to Hawaii as the bushfires burned throughout Australia and, until recently, refused to discuss climate change in relation to the ongoing crisis.

Mr Morrison, who once brought a lump of coal to parliament to discourage people from being “afraid of it” when the nation was debating reducing coal mining, was last month confronted by angry residents of Cobargo – a town in NSW – after paying a visit to those affected by the fires.

Scott Morrison has been widely criticised for his approach to the bushfires crisis

Footage showed locals telling the PM he had “left the country to burn”.

“What about the people who are dead, prime minister?” one woman is heard asking. “What about the people who have nowhere to live?”

Speaking later, Mr Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “I understand the very strong feelings people have, they’ve lost everything, and there are still some very dangerous days ahead.”

Mr Morrison has also been forced to defend a promotional video advocating his administration’s response to the bushfires. Critics labelled the 50-second clip, authorised by the Liberal party rather than the Australian government, as “misleading and deceptive”.

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