Telluride residents are familiar with the devastating effects of wildfires. The fires during the summer of 2018 were disastrous for parts of Colorado. Fortunately, most residential areas were spared. For the current wildfires in Australia, the same is not true.
The continent’s megafires are burning in populated areas, which is atypical. Wildfires of this scale usually burn in remote regions in Canada or Siberia, where they can burn out without threatening people, as Jamie Tarabay noted in a recent New York Times piece.
In New South Wales and South Victoria, where the bushfires are focused, more than 16 million acres have burned. That is approximately the size of West Virginia. The burn area in Australia is eight times larger than that of the 2018 California wildfires.
Many scientists have attributed the wildfires in Australia to the effects of climate change. In Australia, 2019 was the hottest and driest year recorded to date. The fires themselves also exacerbate climate change by producing massive amounts of greenhouse gas. Dr. Pep Canadell, a lead climate expert with Australia's national research agency, told NPR that the southeastern fires in Australia have generated the equivalent amount of carbon as the country’s man-made emissions in two-thirds of an entire year.
Two local initiatives helped raise funds to combat wildfires in Australia. One of the teams, led by Molly Perrault and Brooke Einbender, carved a koala out of snow and solicited donations for the Koala Hospital during in Mountain Village’s SculptFest recently.
Dave Chew organized a 5K “Fun Run” and fundraiser last weekend. Runners dressed up in costumes and tutus and ran through the snow around town. In total, almost 40 people ran in the race, and eight completed the half marathon, running the last 5K together with the other participants.
“It was so fun. We had a good crew out there,” Chew said. “We really had the whole spectrum of the community involved.”
Chew is originally from Australia and moved to Telluride in 2007. The fires have had a personal effect for him. Chew’s parents had to evacuate.
“It’s pretty close to home,” Chew said.
The run in Telluride was inspired by a global initiative called the Relief Run, started by runners Samantha Gash and Nic Davidson. The Relief Run was a “virtual race” on Jan. 18-19, as individuals all over the world ran either a 5K or a half marathon to raise money to help fight Australia’s fires. All of the $50 entry fees for the Relief Run were donated to the Australian Red Cross.
Cami Chapus, runner and Telluride resident, discovered the Relief Run on Strava and sent the post to Chew, who then decided to organize the local run.
“It was really unique to do it here out in the snow,” Chapus said. “Dave did a great job organizing and getting everyone out there.”
When organizing the local Fun Run, Chew wanted to give participants a choice in organizations since relief is needed in so many areas. Both humans and animals are suffering immensely. More than 30 people have died and an estimated 1.25 billion animals have been killed in the fires, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Many more are at risk of starvation and dehydration after their habitats were decimated.
People in town could either donate to the Australian Red Cross or the Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES), an organization that provides relief for native orphan animals. The WIRES organization was the more popular donation choice.
“People definitely preferred the marsupials,” Chew said.
In total, Chew’s event raised $2,000.
“I would like to thank the community for showing up and getting involved, and we had a great day out,” Chew said.
The second local fundraiser also favored the marsupials. For SculptFest, Einbender and Perrault — team name, Molly and Brooke's Excellent Adventure — carved a giant koala out of snow in an effort to raise awareness about the Australia bushfires. Perrault and Einbender are both artists who work for the Telluride Arts District.
Andy Krueger, who organizes SculptFest, works with Telski, using a snow cat to collect the snow that he then distributes in 8-by-8-by-8-foot cubes. The snow hardens overnight before the teams carve them. This year, two teams participated. The other group was from Telluride Mountain School.
The weather was not particularly kind, and both teams braved the blizzard to carve their pieces over the weekend. The snow koala was Einbender’s first snow sculpture. Brandon Berkel, Tony Tavano and Michael Baker assisted Einbender and Perrault.
“What’s really cool about the process is that at first you’re just staring at this cube,” Einbender said. “At first it’s really intimidating, but once you start the process it really comes together.”
The sculptures should last a few weeks, depending on weather. The snow koala is accompanied by a sign with a QR code that people can scan to donate to the Koala Hospital, which helps rehab and treat sick and injured koala,s as well as conserve habitats. There is also a hashtag, #Koalarado, that people can find on social media. Telski and the Town of Mountain Village have been reposting the sculpture to garner donations.
For Einbender, creating a koala felt significant, she explained.
“It was just so touching because there were so many Australians in town, and they were so touched by what we were doing,” she said. “It felt so good to do something small that had an impact.”