For many Australian kids, the 2019 school year ended with classroom closures due to dangerous bushfires and the need to wear masks to protect from hazardous smoke.
Now the summer holidays have been punctured by evacuations and power outages. As fires escalated this week, some children spent New Year’s Eve in emergency centres, while others were forced to flee to the beach with their families to stay safe.
Australia’s bushfire season began with blazes in September but by mid-November catastrophic fire warnings were issued for fires raging along the east coast. Fires burning across six states have intermittently closed down major highways, claimed at least 17 lives, and made smoke haze a new normal in numerous cities and towns including Sydney, home to 5.2 million people.
This is the first bout of devastating bushfires many young children have experienced. And anyone aged under 35 in New South Wales has never seen so much of the state burned in a single season.
Here are some photos of how children are surviving a bushfire season that experts say is unprecedented.
“We were just worried about getting away from the fire and just being safe,” Burns told Nine.
“I just find it so moving to watch children make sense of what is happening around them through play,” British educator Angela Charlton, who took the photo while visiting Australia for a wedding, told BuzzFeed News. “I remember watching children in my Reception class building tall towers from blocks and smashing toy airplanes into them after 9/11.”
“Even in dire times these #shoalhaven firefighters brought smiles to kids faces gifting lollies and spreading the Christmas joy,” their mother Karen Lam wrote on Instagram.
“You’ve got the raging fire, you’ve got planes flying low over the sky, and the water was peaceful, and you just know this is something different,” Stoll told the Great Lakes Advocate.
“I said to the boys, ‘Take it in, because this is something you might not experience for the rest of your life.'”
Keaton and O’Dwyer were both fathers of young children.
“I actually pushed my dad into taking me up to Kirribilli House. He probably wanted to go surfing, but I was like, ‘No, get on this bus with me. Come up to the house and protest,'” Raj-Seppings told Today.