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‘It feels like the end of the world’: Australian equestrian’s plea for support during devastating fires

An equestrian centre owner and volunteer firefighter has described the situation in Australia as “like the end of the world”.

Caroline Taylor of Serenity Park Equestrian, Victoria, has been donating this season’s hay to horses in need, and working round the clock to help those affected by the bushfires blazing across the country.

“My country is on fire,” she said. “My profound love of all animals and nature has been torn from my soul into pieces as the conservative estimate is that 480 million wildlife and other animals have been horrifically burned to death in the fires. I cannot stop crying.

“The smoke has covered the state and outside my home I cannot see my own horses in the paddock because of the thick smoke blanketing us. The smell of smoke is overpowering and creating fear as people believe there is a fire near when in fact they are several hours’ drive away from us. I have not seen the sun for two days because the sky is dark with smoke.”

Prof Taylor, who has lived and worked in the UK, said some rain had fallen last week but “it barely touched the surface”, and was the first fall since November.

Temperatures were due to soar again and “catastrophic conditions” predicted.

“This level of warning is the highest and means fires will be indefensible should they happen and we will not be able to rely on help should a fire break out,” she said.

“People in affected areas or areas likely to be affected are urged to evacuate now.  If they choose to stay and defend, they are on their own. So many have evacuated and left pets and other animals behind that they could not take with them.”

Prof Taylor spoke of news footage taken in a town in New South Wales destroyed by fire, which showed thousands of burnt bodies, of kangaroos, wallabies, sheep, cows and horses.

“Thousands of them, on the roads where they tried to get shelter; lying next to farm fencing they had burst out of or got caught up in,” she said. “Lying side by side in their hundreds.”

Prof Taylor said friends and relatives’ homes have been destroyed, as “shocking 70-foot flames cremated everything in their path”.

“It is like the end of the world,” she said. “A friend fled his home and could not catch his horses so opened up all the gates and is hoping they are still alive. He is not allowed back to his property but aerial photos showed his house and all his sheds have been burnt to the ground. He has no word still on his horses.”

Prof Taylor said a volunteer colleague said people would like the equestrian world to send messages of support, to “help us feel hope and to stop the feelings of despair and helplessness and hopelessness”.

“We are only at the very start of summer,” she added. “We have another 10 to 12 weeks of hot weather and it feels like we are all going to burn to death.”

Prof Taylor has donated a fifth of her hay stock and is worried that should this winter be dry, she may struggle next year. She is also donating feed for animals who have survived the fires but face starvation as their homes are burnt, and urging others to string up cut apples near burnt trees, and put out shallow bowls of water and seed.

“Our wildlife carers and equine and animal helpers are screaming for medical equipment and aid and medicine, and it’s like a pit with no bottom because as quickly as we donate, the goods are gone,” she said. “I feel angry at the stupidity of so many people who deny the disgusting impact humans have on the world and refuse to see the urgency of climate change and how we are stuffing up the world.”

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Prof Taylor said more hay, feed and medicine for animals is needed, as well as hundreds of bottles of water as tanks have been destroyed or water stocks compromised.

“My country is on fire and the beautiful animals and flora have been burnt to death in what I can only describe as a mass extinction event,” she said. “An estimated 480 million animals. My soul feels destroyed as I feel inside the terror they each felt and the pain of their death.

“My friend who lost his house said he could hear the terrible rumble of the fire and the screams of animals in the bush and the roar of the fire and its vibration through the ground.

“Fireballs roll and bounce. The intensity of bushfires takes away the oxygen up to 300 metres away;  it is called the death zone. Animals cannot outrun it. People in the past have jumped into steel water tanks only to boil to death. People have jumped in dams and rivers and swimming pools to get away – some survive but many still die.

“My country is one fire and I know why so many of us desperately want the world to send us messages of hope and love and understanding of our grief at the excruciating horror – the ecocide that killed our animals and our flora and our people and has so far burned 300 homes just in Victoria alone in one week. We need these messages to help ease hearts bursting with grief and to help us feel we are alive, and we are not alone.”

Prof Taylor said she would be very grateful for supportive messages on the Serenity Park Facebook page, and is also in need of items such as medicine, and cotton rugs.

“We have so many burnt horses who need cotton rugs,” she said.

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