Life goes on for S'poreans in Sydney despite bush fires

SYDNEY - Pictures of the skies above Sydney choked with smoke from bush fires caused a stir in the world's media this week, but Singaporeans living there are going about their daily routines with little fuss.

"The fires are quite far away and the smell isn't strong - it's not like the haze in Singapore," said newspaper consultant Peter Ong, 64, adding that he would be gardening as usual on Saturday. "But it's been very hot and there's been no rain for a month."

As a precaution, he expected that people would be clearing dry leaves from gutters to prevent fires. However, he noted that this was simply what "we usually do at this time of the year".

Australian media reported that, as of yesterday, nearly 100 fires were raging across the state of New South Wales, including in the Blue Mountains area about 50km west of the city, leaving dozens of homes destroyed and killing one person. An estimated 10,000 Singaporeans live in Sydney, the capital of New South Wales.

A Singaporean in his early 50s living 25km to the west of the city centre told The Straits Times that residents were protecting themselves against the risk of fire by spraying water on roofs to prevent fires started by wind-blown embers, for instance.

"It's pretty grim but if you're not living close to the fire, then it's relatively normal," said the journalist, who declined to be named. "Bush fires happen every year and they've happened for thousands of years here."

University of New South Wales architecture student Lynette Neo said that Thursday, when the fires started raging, had been "especially smoky" but she stayed indoors.

"The next day was clear with blue skies... I guess we are all prepared for the fires and the heat as summer is approaching," said the 26-year-old, who has been living in Sydney for 21/2 years.

Another student, 22-year-old Jasmine Chye, is currently based in Cairns but spent the past two years in the Blue Mountains, where her hotel school is based.

Residents in the Blue Mountains are accustomed to bush fires and the inconveniences they bring, she said.

"Bush fires are quite common over here and, honestly speaking, they are quite a hassle," said Ms Chye.

"Sometimes, roads and railways will be closed if the bush fire is too severe... These obstructions can pose a big problem to us as transportation is limited to trains and cars."

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