Social media carries story of crisis to the world

By Miles Godfrey

As firefighters and ordinary residents toil at the black-red coalface of NSW's bushfire crisis, their story of heroism and anguish is being told to the world.

Since the disaster began unfolding late last week, more than 11,000 photos of the fires have been uploaded to Instagram. From apocalyptic-looking smoke above the Blue Mountains to charred tree stumps and the blackened ruins of hundreds of homes.

Traumatised koalas and wallabies. Haunted human faces emerging from the soot. And the legions of Rural Fire Service volunteers, ready, resolute and unmissable in their bright orange garb. It's all been documented on social media, instantly, globally, powerfully.

One image of firefighting brothers Josh and Matt Jones-Power lying on the roadside has been seen by 3.7 million people on Facebook. Fire crackles nearby as the pair serving with Wallarah RFS apparently grab a short nap. The picture, by Phil Hearne of the Newcastle Herald, has elicited 4300 messages of support and admiration from around the world.

Another fiery image posted to Facebook by NSW Incident Alerts with the text "We Say Thank You" has been shared more than 7000 times. "Amazing firefighters - gutted to see the news here in the UK," one user commented.

About 600,000 bushfire-related terms have been posted to Facebook since Thursday, when the disaster took hold and the skies darkened.

Other posts and images, some from the frontline, have documented the brutal conditions faced by RFS volunteers. One uploaded by Instagram user Bunniesbabe shows a firefighter fronting up to a furnace-like blaze among trees, covered in showers of sparks. There are parched koalas recovering under damp towels, being cared for by vets and volunteers.

Twitter is running hot with evacuation warnings, fire alerts, tales of escape and bravery, with hashtags #nswfires and #bushfires trending highly as the crisis continues.

A social media campaign has also been launched to provide formal dresses, make-up and photography for graduating high school students who have lost everything in the NSW bushfires. The Firey Formal Dress Exchange has attracted more than 1300 followers and allows anyone with a formal dress collecting dust to donate it to someone in need. Visitors to the page are encouraged to help their "sisters who have lost their formal dress in the fire".

The page's creator Maddi Ventura, who finished school last year, said she was inspired to set up the page after hearing her friend's sister had lost her wedding and bridesmaid dresses in the fires.AAP

- NZ Herald

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