Q&A: Australian students talk about Australian wildfires

Australian photo

Oklahoma State students Chloe Holliday (left) and Justin Gerschwitz (right) are natives of Adelaide, Australia. They sat down with the O'Colly to talk about the Australian wildfires that broke out in September and caught international media attention in January.

In January, the Australian wildfires that started in September caught international media attention. The fires have now burned over 27 million acres of land and killed at least 29 people. The O'Colly sat down with Adelaide, Australia, natives and Oklahoma State University students Chloe Holliday and Justin Gerschwitz to learn about their experience seeing the tragedy unfold while in the United States. 

How did you first hear about the wildfires back home? 

Holliday: I just mainly found out online via social media. Eventually, I saw more news posts and just googled it to read about it. Obviously I chatted with friends and family back home about it as well. That’s where I mainly found out most of the information about them. 

Gerschwitz: I’m fairly similar. I was home for the first wave when it started back in October. From then it was just social media and getting pictures and videos from people back home. 

What was your initial reaction to the news?

Holliday: I was so surprised when I first saw it because the pictures they were posting honestly looked like they were edited; it looked like the apocalypse. It was kind of scary to see people hiding in the water and all of that sort of stuff. I feel like if it was happening more in our state that it would have definitely been more frightening. 

Gerschwitz: Seeing all of the pictures of all of the animals and that was really devastating.

Has anyone you know been affected by the wildfires?

Holliday: Not particularly. No one has directly been affected or anything like that. It has just been a lot of close calls. 

Gerschwitz: I am kind of the same way. My uncle and auntie know a lot of people who have lost their properties, lost everything really. Those people are obviously struggling, but fortunately there has been no direct impact for me. 

How far was the closest fire to where you are both from? 

Holliday: Adelaide Hills is only around a 20 minute drive from where we are both from. That burned down a lot of wineries and stuff. There is also an island off of the coast of south Australia called Kangaroo Island which is almost completely burned. My family and friends were actually on that island when it was burning around Christmas, so that was super scary. I had to make contact with them just to make sure they were still alive so that was scary.

Gerschwitz: Yeah my family lives in a place called King’s Cove, which is the only part of the island which was safe. It was scary when it looked like the fires were all rushing toward that one town, but it all was all OK in the end.  

How does it feel to watch these fires from the other side of the world? 

Holliday: I mean I was with friends from home over Christmas, and they were going home afterward, and they were all terrified about going home because you don’t really know what you are going home to. I remember speaking with my mom over the Christmas period, and you could not even go outside because the smoke was that bad, which is awful. It kind of seems surreal being over here because I didn't have to experience any of that back home.  

Gerschwitz: I have not seen a lot of it first hand, so being out here and hearing about it you just feel it may be being blown out of proportion, but if it were my hometown, I would be pretty scared to not know what I was going back to.