Local man talks with 'Australian brother' in the midst of devastating fires

Published: Jan. 10, 2020 at 4:46 AM EST
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As Australians contend with catastrophic wildfires, the dire situation is also impacting a South Burlington man who has stayed in touch with an Australian family for the past 50 years.

More than 25 million acres have already burned, more than 25 people have died and hundreds of millions of animals have been wiped out.

After decades of writing emails and talking over the phone, two lifelong friends separated by 10,000 miles of ocean are finally seeing each other over video chat. But the reunion between South Burlington's Robbie Stuart and Australian Ross Constable isn't a happy one.

"It's devastating. We have ash falling on our house far as far on the east coast of Wales," said Constable. "We've still got a lot of fires burning, Robbie, this is not over for Australia for a long time."

Though Constable is a retired firefighter and park ranger, Stuart says every day he worries about his friend and his family's safety.

"You know, this fire has come really close, 20 kilometers, that's like 12 miles away from his house, and they only were saved because the wind direction changed, and now this coming week, weather's going to change again," said Stuart.

Constable says the most immediate concern is what they'll be able to drink. "It's in our water supply, it's in all our streams. What we are worried about now is getting heavy rain which will actually cause major pollution problems in our rivers and streams. We are running out of water here, Robbie, it's quite serious here," said Constable.

With the roads closed, Constable tried to do his part to bring much-needed resources to other parts of the country.

U.S. firefighters have arrived in Sydney. Crews over there are exhausted, as they've been battling flames for months. And now things are taking a turn for the worse.

"Because of the fire's severity, the most experienced firefighters have not seen ever. People are dying, defending their homeland," said Constable.

Now Stuart and Constable say they can only hope Constable's family won't have to make a decision like that.