Australia fires: Katie Swan on 'devastating' bushfires in country

Katie Swan

When British number six Katie Swan woke up in Canberra on New Year's Day, she could smell smoke inside her apartment.

"Because it was still dark we didn't know what it was like outside, but the news said there had been some really bad fires not far away from us," Swan told BBC Sport.

"I started Googling 'air quality in Canberra' and it was showing off the scale, hazardous air quality that day.

"Then when the sun came up you could see that outside was completely covered in smoke, and ash had settled on top of cars in the street."

Swan was preparing to play in the women's ITF event in Canberra, the country's capital city.

Bushfires have been spreading across the country since September 2019 and have destroyed more than 1,200 homes across New South Wales and Victoria.

At least 27 people have died and 10 million hectares of land have been destroyed across the country.


The week that Swan was there, the air quality in Canberra was rated as the worst in the world.

"When we arrived they advised us to get masks because it wasn't healthy even being outside to breathe in that smoky air," the 20-year-old said.

"We actually ended up having to wear them inside a couple of times as well because you could feel the smoke even in the apartment."

'You did not want to breathe that air in'

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Australia's capital Canberra is engulfed in smoke

There were no fires in Canberra but smoke from the neighbouring states was blown across the city, covering it in smoke.

Swan admitted that she had not realised the severity of the problem until she arrived.

"As soon as we walked outside to get some food you did not want to breathe that air in," she said.

"It was like being at a bonfire, but being stood next to it all the time.

"The wind was coming from all directions and just blowing into Canberra. The air was the worst but no-one was actually injured where we were, thankfully."

Swan and her team were advised not to go outside, which meant training was impossible.

"I woke up one day with quite a bad headache. I don't know if it could have been related to it, but I did call a doctor to check we were OK to be there," Swan said.

"We were concerned about it being safe."

Nick Kyrgios
A number of tennis players have donated money to the relief efforts in Australia

WTA events are held in China during the Asian swing in the later part of the season and the air pollution in the county is some of the worst in the world.

However, Swan said that she had never experienced anything like the smoke in Canberra.

"In China, you can see that there's a smog and the pollution, but it was a different feeling in Canberra," she said.

"You could smell the smoke all the time. It felt like you were at a bonfire and you were standing next to that fire, but for 24 hours straight. It wasn't ideal."

Ultimately, the tournament was moved from Canberra to Melbourne, where the air quality was slightly better, and Swan and her team relocated to Bendigo in Victoria.

She had arrived in Australia on Tuesday, 31 December, but she did not get out on a court until Friday afternoon when she arrived in Melbourne.

"It was a relief when we flew to Melbourne and stepped outside and could inhale fresh air, but a lot of people have it way, way worse than us," Swan added.

"It was tough to manage those three days but people have lost their homes.

"It's been devastating to hear about all the people who are homeless now and the animals that have died."

Swan reached the second round of the Canberra event.

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