By Jill Gralow
PICTON, Australia (Reuters) – When Australian volunteer firefighter Andrew Hain is out battling bushfires, he sends emojis to his wife Kate to let her know he is safe.
They’ve also discussed that “no news is good news” and that she shouldn’t needlessly worry if he goes into rugged or remote bushland with no telephone reception.
Hain, a father-of-two, is one of several thousand volunteer firefighters that Australian communities rely on to combat bushfires, an ever pervasive threat in the continent’s hot and dry climate.
This summer fire season, however, is fast turning into one of the worst on record, heaping pressure on volunteers and their families.
Two volunteer firefighters were killed last week when their truck was struck by a falling tree as it traveled to a fire front.
“I have a little emoji of a bald guy with a bit of facial growth giving a thumbs up, and so every hour or so I try and send that emoji to her and she knows that I’m OK,” Andrew Hain told Reuters, shortly after fighting fires in the Wollondilly Shire, south of Sydney.
“We get into some places and there’s not a lot of reception and you know, we’ve got a sort of thing in place that no news is good news, if she doesn’t hear from me. So, we’ve got plans around it to try and put her mind at ease.”
A total of six people have died in bushfires which have destroyed more than 3.7 million hectares (9.1 million acres) across five states since they first erupted in spring in an early and ominous start to the bushfire season.
The eastern state of New South Wales is the worst affected with nearly 100 fires. A mega blaze northwest of Sydney, the country’s largest city, is the biggest bushfire on record, burning some 335,000 hectares (830,000 acres).
A three-year drought and record high temperatures have created more intense bushfires this season, say firefighters, already weary from months on the firegrounds and staring down two more months of summer heat.
Nightly television footage of exhausted volunteer firefighters and the ferocious fires they are battling has sparked debate over whether volunteers should be compensated.
Hain, a flight route planner at airline Qantas, has given up much of his end-of-year holidays to fight the fires. His young family have left their home to stay in Sydney while the fire threat looms.
His wife Kate is proud of him for contributing so strongly to the local community, but says it comes at a cost.
“We get nothing and they expect the amount of time and effort and danger they put themselves in, it’s just expected. I find that just amazing, that nobody gives us anything,” she said.
(Reporting by Jill Gralow in Picton; writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Michael Perry)