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Former Kansas lawmaker living in Australia talks about impact of wildfires

Published: Jan. 7, 2020 at 4:45 PM CST
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A former Kansas lawmaker says deadly wildfires are having a great economic impact on the country he now calls home.

Don Betts, Jr. served as a Kansas senator from 2003 to 2009. He now resides in Melbourne, Victoria, a state that borders New South Wales where the fires rage on.

Betts says he and his family haven't been directly affected by the Australian bushfires, but they have experienced a lot of the aftermath.

"So, the smoke in the air, the ash, especially in the city many people are calling into work because of asthma or emphysema."

The New South Wales Police Force says at least 183 people face legal action for about 205 brushfires. Twenty-four have been charged with deliberately setting the fires.

Betts says there are also other factors -- including the debate over global warming.

"A lot of the natives of the land, or the First People, they call them the traditional owners of the land. They have a process where to burn in a 360-degrees to prevent these fires from happening. But that hasn't been done in the past. That's why we're experiencing so many fires."

Betts says Australia, the world's only island nation continent, must now contend with losing billions in insurance claims, property loss and life due to the devastation. The official death toll still stands at 24, and thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed.

"Kangaroo Island was a popular tourist destination. You would have to spend a couple thousand dollars to enjoy a good holiday there. Right now it's up in flames, it's no holiday destination."

Despite the fires, Betts says Australia will grow back stronger.

"We're moving forward the people's spirits are high," he says. "Australian people are coming together to help one another, rebuild. "That's what we do in a democracy."

The

is offering people the opportunity to check-in to let their loved ones. You can also donate to help those impacted by the wildfires.