Newsbeat

Australia fires: 'I lost my home. The shock will never fully set in'

Gabriel Kam hugs his mother Image copyright The Sydney Morning Herald
Image caption Gabriel Kam hugs his mother after their home was "destroyed in an instant"

"There isn't really any way to describe the intensity of the fires."

Gabriel Kam's family home was recently destroyed by the bushfires which are sweeping across Australia.

Since September at least 24 people have died and the fires have destroyed more than 1,500 homes across the country.

"You don't think you'll actually lose everything until it's already happened," the 16-year-old tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"The shock will never fully set in."

Image copyright The Sydney Morning Herald
Image caption Gabriel and his family tried to stop the fire but say they were at the "mercy" of nature

Gabriel's village, Balmoral, is about a two-hour drive south of Sydney.

It was first hit by the bushfires on 19 December. Two days later they struck again - that's when his home was destroyed.

Image copyright The Sydney Morning Herald
Image caption Gabriel is 16 and lost his home

His family has followed advice of firefighters to clear small trees or any shrubbery that might catch alight but Gabriel says "there wasn't a lot we could do" to prepare for what was coming.

"You know it's coming. But at the end of the day, you're completely at the mercy of mother nature... you're helpless."

Image copyright Gabriel Kam
Image caption Gabriel's home, where he lived with his parents, had been in the family for 20 years

He says their house was "destroyed in an instant" and there was no time to protect anything except their two cats and the clothes on their back.

Gabriel and his family are now staying close by with family friends.

"One thing you'll hear from a lot of firefighters is that this fire felt like it was alive... It completely encapsulated our house.

Image copyright Gabriel Kam
Image caption The fires effortlessly melted through thick glass in the house

"We had double-laminated glass, which you would need to hit with a sledgehammer several times to break. The fire shattered straight away.

"When we came back to the wreckage there were pools of molten glass on the ground.

"We had furniture outside, it disintegrated so quickly that it left imprints of where the furniture was on the wall... anything inside the house is unrecognisable."

Image copyright The Sydney Morning Herald
Image caption Firefighters have described the fires as sounding "like a jet engine"

"We almost got hit again," explains Gabriel.

"The only way this fire is going to stop is through lots of continuous hard rain. And rain is not coming to Australia anytime soon, unfortunately."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption It's thought more than 500 million animals have been killed in the fires

Part of the relief efforts have come from international donations including a fundraiser for fire services in New South Wales, which has raised more than A$20m (£10.6m) in just 48 hours.

Gabriel has started fundraising for his family and local area and says getting support from all over the world is "really heart warming".

"People who don't necessarily need to care are still helping as much as they can because we are all human.

"The international community needs to understand what's happening in Australia.

"It's not going to stop anytime soon... No-one has been untouched."

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Media caption"You're an idiot, mate": Australian PM Scott Morrison heckled by bushfire victims

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called up 3,000 reserve troops to help as more strong winds and hot weather are predicted in the areas affected.

He was recently heckled during a visit to Cobargo in New South Wales, only a few hours away from Gabriel's house, by people who said the government hadn't done enough to help communities.

Gabriel agreed that "there's a sense of frustration", but says there's "an overwhelming sense of togetherness".

"A lot of this is happening when there could have been preventative measures.

"There's also a bond to support those who have lost things to the fire though."

Image copyright Gabriel Kam
Image caption Bushfires rage outside Gabriel's home, before it was destroyed

Despite 20% of the village reportedly losing their homes to the fire, Gabriel says he's hopeful the community will be able to "come back stronger than we've ever been".

"We've had people we never met before come up to us and say, 'If you need a place to stay, you can stay at our place. If you need any clothes, we have a bunch we can give you'.

"We will get through this as a community and as friends together, and we will help each other rebuild."

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