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Northern Ireland pair living in Australia tell of 'post-apocalyptic' wildfires scene

A helicopter tackles a wildfire in East Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia. Credit: State Government of Victoria via AP
A helicopter tackles a wildfire in East Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia. Credit: State Government of Victoria via AP
Smoke and wildfire rage behind Lake Conjola, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. Thousands of tourists fled Australia's wildfire-ravaged eastern coast Thursday ahead of worsening conditions as the military started to evacuate people trapped on the shore further south. (Robert Oerlemans via AP)
This Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 photo provided by State Government of Victoria shows wildfires in East Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions Tuesday, Dec. 31, and were feared to have destroyed many properties and caused fatalities. (State Government of Victoria via AP)
This Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 photo provided by State Government of Victoria shows wildfires in East Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions Tuesday, Dec. 31, and were feared to have destroyed many properties and caused fatalities. (State Government of Victoria via AP)
This Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 photo provided by State Government of Victoria shows wildfires in East Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions Tuesday, Dec. 31, and were feared to have destroyed many properties and caused fatalities. (State Government of Victoria via AP)
Dearbhla Kelly
Mark Alcorn
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

Two people from Northern Ireland living at the centre of the huge Australian wildfires have told how Sydney has taken on a "post-apocalyptic" feel as blazes rage all around them.

Londonderry woman Dearbhla Kelly, who is working in the heart of the deadly blazes to keep the public safe, said she has never experienced anything like what she has witnessed in recent days.

And Mark Alcorn from Coleraine said everything is covered in ash and burning leaves are falling from the sky around the city.

Dearbhla (23) has lived in Sydney for just over a year.

She works for traffic control company Work C and has been assisting in the areas of the bushfires, keeping the public off treacherous roads and allowing access to the emergency services.

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Dearbhla Kelly

"I work out in the outbacks of Sydney, where I'm doing my regional work," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I've been working close to the bush fires as I am a traffic controller, so I have to close the road so no cars can drive up, as the fires are spread all over the road and it's too dangerous. I have to wear a mask and protective clothing to work.

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"We also have to assist and let firefighters down the road and I always see the helicopters pass overhead as well with the buckets attached to collect water from dams.

"It's just such a sad, sad experience for Australia. The fires are getting worse every day. I talk to a lot of people when I'm on the road closures and they are so scared. A lot of them have pets as well that are affected. The fires are about five miles from where I live and cover a huge area. I pulled over the other night on my way home and took a picture. The red glow from the fire in the night sky was eerie.

"Thankfully, it hasn't come close to us yet. But the smoke is so bad. Some mornings it's so terrible we can't work, some mornings it's okay. A lot of people here in Sydney are going about their normal day-to-day life. People still go to the beaches when the smoke is so thick outside."

Dearbhla said she has the utmost respect for the firefighters who are struggling to contain the massive blazes.

"The firefighters are actually doing an amazing job," she added. "But they can only do so much. They are only human.

"I think it's definitely getting worse. I see firefighters drive past me when I'm working on the road and they just look absolutely exhausted.

"A lot of people had to evacuate up the coast for their own safety. When the smoke is thick in the sky Sydney feels and looks so dark, it's really creepy. The main incidents in my area are because of the smoke. The fires are around my area so the smoke blows into my town. It's so thick and the smell is absolutely disgusting, it stinks of chemicals."

Mark Alcorn (34) has lived in the Sydney suburb of Ingleburn for 10 years with his Australian-born wife Tiani and works in the city's university.

He described how a blanket of smoke is covering the city.

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Mark Alcorn

"The sky is often dark and gloomy, but there are no clouds," he said. "The sky looks orange like a sunset, but it's summer and sun is still high. I can smell the smoke in the air, hills and buildings once visible in the distance are now hidden behind the haze. The ground is covered with ash and burnt leaves from the distant fires.

"We have friends and family much nearer to the fires at the Blue Mountains and their homes are at risk. Many of them have had to evacuate.

"Thankfully, me and my wife are safe where we are. But we went for a short trip after Christmas, driving out west. On the way home we drove past scorched landscape. We didn't know if the roads were going to be open or if we would be stuck.

"Looking out the window, the whole place looks very eerie and feels post-apocalyptic."

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