A Californian in Australia shares advice from Paradise fire

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SOMERVILLE Australia (AP) — An American living in Australia who has endured wildfires on both continents is sharing heartfelt messages of hope and advice for those who have fled their homes Down Under.

When hundreds of wildfire evacuees sought safety in her southeastern Australian town of Somerville, Victoria, recently, Kasey Baines reached out to survivors of her hometown in Paradise, California, where a deadly 2018 blaze virtually annihilated the town.

The Paradise fire killed 85 people and destroyed thousands of homes, including one Baines and her husband were building and homes belonging to her mother and sister.

Comments poured into a Facebook group where Baines posted the request, the Mercury News of San Jose reported Wednesday.

"This disaster in your life will not define you. You will make it a chapter of survival!" wrote a commenter identified as Sasha P.

"If we could reach you from here, know we would wrap our arms around you," Lynn. R. wrote.

Baines has neatly hand-written more than 100 of the comments onto a cloth banner that she plans to send to evacuees in Bairnsdale, Victoria.

Baines got the idea as people fleeing fires in southeastern Australia arrived in her town of Somerville on Saturday. Many had fled Mallacoota, a small coastal town in Victoria that was cut off for days by fires that forced about 4,000 people to shelter on beaches until they could be evacuated by a navy ship.

Baines couldn't help but think of the similarities to the fire in Paradise. Both were rural communities, parched by drought, where seasonal fires arrived earlier than typical and with greater ferocity. In Paradise, 85 people died in what became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in at least 100 years in the United States. Many fled with nothing and must have been "disoriented and confused and unsure," said Baines, who relocated to Australia a decade ago but has returned home to Northern California annually.

“This could be one of the first times when (Paradise residents) aren't receiving words of comfort, they're giving it to other survivors, and it's such a powerful step forward in their journey," she told the newspaper.

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