Want to Help Australia Fire Victims? Here’s How

Several options are available to groups and individuals that want to provide help as brushfires continue to rage across Australia, particularly the southeastern part of the country.

Australian Red Cross is accepting donations to its Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund. It’s helped to send 1,285 staff members and volunteers to communities affected by the fires and to help shelter displaced people in more than 69 evacuation and recovery centers.

Monetary donations that help provide mental health support, housing and other forms of assistance to fire victims can be made to the Salvation Army.

St. Vincent de Paul Society has more than 60,000 members and volunteers who assist people in need across Australia. It has created the bushfire appeal, which designates how much specific financial contributions will help. For instance, $35 can provide food for a displaced family, $150 can enable a family to stave off bills and $300 can help clothe a family that had to leave behind its belongings.

Victoria and South Wales have been hit hardest by the fires, and contributions can be made directly to the states’ fire authority or to a local fire brigade. For fire departments in Victoria, donate at cfa.vic.gov.au and for those in New South Wales, donate on the government’s website.

The international community has been stepping up to help deal with the crisis. Scores of U.S. firefighters have joined others from around the world to combat the fires. The National Interagency Fire Center, based in Idaho, sent at least 83 personnel to Australia, including 37 to South Wales and 44 to Victoria. Several celebrities—including Pink, Elton John, Kylie Monogue, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban and Chris Hemsworth—made major contributions.

Travelers Urged to Keep Appraised of Conditions

 Meanwhile, meeting groups throughout the world are encouraged to keep appraised of fire conditions in Australia.

“We would encourage all travelers coming to Australia to seek the most up-to-date information prior to departure, and remain informed about changing conditions whilst on the ground,” said Phillipa Harrison, managing director of Tourism Australia, in a statement on its website. “Whilst brushfires continue to impact parts of Australia, many areas are unaffected and most tourism businesses are still open.

“It is more important than ever that we rally around our communities and the tourism sector who may have been impacted.”

The website also provides links to weather patterns and emergency services organizations in each state and territory.

2 Popular Tourism Properties Close

Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, a popular tourism destination, has sustained significant damage from a brushfire and is now closed, with no reopening date set. The lodge plans to contact guests and travel industry partners in the next several days about making alternative arrangements.

Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley Resort, located within the Greater Blue Ridge Mountains (a World Heritage Site), was not damaged but closed until Jan. 20 to undertake remedial work on its landscape and hiking trails. It’s a three-hour drive from Sydney.

Sydney Festival, which was scheduled for Jan. 7-26, cancelled its flagship event (Opening Night, a play starring Oscar-nominated actress Isabelle Adjani) at Sydney Opera House due to health concerns related to the fire-affected air quality. The festival was rescheduled for Jan. 21-26.

Some popular beaches, including Bondi in Sydney, were  not swimmable for much of the summer as the air quality soared to hazardous levels, and many commuters in Sydney now wear face masks to keep toxins out. Also, officials monitored the air quality before the ATP Cup tennis tournament and a cricket Test match between Australia and New Zealand in Sydney this week.

Meeting Cities Not Heavily Impacted

But most of the fires are not heavily impacting cities most visited by international business groups and tourists, so those areas generally have not seen a decline in visitors. Bookings for the upcoming Chinese New Year Holiday season in major cities, a major event and critical to Australia’s economy, are holding up. Still, many groups and individuals planning to visit the country are waiting to decide whether to go ahead with their booked trips or to postpone them.

The fires have killed at least 25 people and hundreds of millions of animals, and razed nearly 2,000 homes since they began in September. They also have burned nearly 18 million acres of land, wiping out entire towns and severely damaging forests and national parks. Fires are nothing new to Australia, but they have been growing more intense and destructive in recent years, a problem exacerbated by climate change.