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Some in path of Australian wildfires refuse to leave

BURRAGATE, Australia (AP) — Evan Harris said police and fire crews told him he should leave his cottage because of the threat posed by Australia’s wildfires, but he told them he wasn’t going anywhere.

While most people in the path of the raging fires have complied with the recommendations of authorities, some are choosing to ignore them and remain to try to defend their homes. Because the advice generally isn’t mandatory, there’s not much authorities can do, other than wish those who elect to stay good luck.

The fires have devastated the country since September, killing at least 26 people and destroying more than 2,000 homes.

Harris lives in the small rural village of Burragate, which for several hours on Friday was choked with smoke and was directly in the fire’s path.

A fire strike team and several members of the Australian Army arrived in the town to try to save properties, and the assembled team was prepared to hunker down in the town’s fire station if the flames overran them.

In the end, the winds died down and so did the fire. The crisis was averted, for now. But fire crews worry the flames will flare up again during a fire season that could continue for months.

Harris said he likes to live off the grid in his remote home, which is made from mud bricks. He has no electricity, and instead uses batteries to power the lights and a small wood burner to heat water. The cottage itself has a warm and cozy feel. And Harris feels like he has a point to make.

“If this house survives I think it will be a bit of a wake-up call for people,” he said. “That maybe people should start building like this, instead of over-exorbitant houses.”

Harris prepared for the fires expected on Friday night by tacking sheets of iron over his windows and clearing the area around the house of grass and shrubbery that might have caught alight. He dug a hole away from the cottage to house his gas canisters.

Harris said his plan was to stay as long as possible to defend his home and then retreat to the fire station in the village if needed. But he may have found it difficult to get to the station if the fire had ended up surrounding the house.

Harris said he was disappointed in the environmental destruction that Europeans had visited upon Australia in just over 200 years since they’d first arrived, and that people should be paying attention to the more sustainable way that indigenous Australians had lived for the prior 60,000 years.

“This is a result of the human species demanding too much of the environment,” he said of the wildfires.

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