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Australia fires: The volunteers risking their lives to tackle blazes

Firefighters tackle bushfires in Australia.
Firefighters tackle bushfires in Australia. France 24

Bushfires in Australia have destroyed more than 4 million hectares in recent weeks -- an area the size of Japan -- but most of the firefighters tackling the blazes are unpaid volunteers, working long shifts and risking their lives to keep their communities safe.

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In New South Wales, one of the states hardest hit by the recent bushfires, nearly 90 percent of the 70,000-strong Rural Fire Service (RFS) are volunteers. They have been working shifts sometimes as long as 16 hours since the start of the bushfire crisis.

Many take days off work or use their free time to join the effort to fight the fires.

“Fifteen, sixteen hour shifts in a row, you're exhausted at the end of that and you might have one day break and they want you to go again,” Stewart Temesvary, a volunteer firefighter with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) told Reuters.

“It just takes its toll physically and emotionally on the family.”

On Sunday, the Australian government announced it would start compensating the volunteer firefighters currently fighting the bushfires, with payments of up to 6,000 Australian dollars (€3,750).

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