By Ben Macintosh
Ross Hastie recently returned to snowy PEI from Australia, which is currently dealing with extreme bushfires (Photo credits: Ben Macintosh)
A PEI resident has recently returned home safely after spending nearly a year living in an area that was devastated by Australia’s ongoing bushfires.
Ross Hastie, who graduated from Holland College in 2018, was in Australia from February to December 2019. The now world famous fires began in September of that year.
Hastie and his friends chose Australia because of the working holiday opportunities, where backpackers can travel the country and make money working jobs.
â€œI was done at Holland College and I just wanted to do something else that wasnâ€™t school. I just wanted to get away and go travel,â€ Hastie said in an interview with the Cadre on Monday.
To earn money, the group worked on a sheep farm in New South Wales, where the fires we especially devastating.
The 2019-2020 wildfires in Australia have been the worst ever recorded in that country. Over 186,000 square kilometers of land have been burned, and at least 30 people and one billion animals have died as a result.
The six months Hastie were in Australia were supposed to be the rainy season. Due to a record-breaking drought, however, he said there was very little rain.
â€œIt was so dry when we were leaving in November and that was just the start of the summer season,â€ he said.
Hastie said his group was directly affected by the fires on a few occasions.
â€œWe went to this place called Protesters Falls and we were going done the road and it was a really skinny 10km dirt road, so we were on our way down and as we got closer and closer, you could see that it got more and more smokey,â€ he said.
Screenshot from Googleâ€™s crisis map of the Australian Bushfires which a devastating primarily the Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales.
â€œAs we got down you could literally see the flames coming out of this national park and we got to the end of this road and there was a white truck blocking the way and just turning people away because the whole thing was on fire.â€
While Hastie is thankful he did not come in contact with fires very often, Hastie said that the smoke was ever present.
â€œWhen we were in Byron Bay and Surfers Paradise, youâ€™d be looking along the horizon on the beaches and you canâ€™t see anything compared to the tourist pictures they post online because itâ€™s just that smoky.â€ Hastie said.
A lot of places that were untouched when Hastie visited have since been ravaged by the fires.
â€œEverything you saw when you were there, it’s all on fire now. I was there not even a year ago and it’s all destroyed,â€ he said.
Since coming home, Hastie has been told by friends and family that he was lucky to avoid the fires.Â Instead of lucky, Hastie has he mostly feels sad knowing what’s happening in New South Wales.
â€œWe were never really threatened by the fire, but it’s kind of sad being back, honestly. Because I was there that whole time but looking back there was nothing I really could have done.â€
For Islanders looking to help, Hastie says donating to the firefighters and animal shelters in Australia is the best way to assist.