NEW YORK (AP) — Liz Cambage was emotional as she talked about the fires that have devastated her native Australia.
The Las Vegas Aces star was heading home, after a brief trip to the U.S., to train with the national team to get ready for their Olympic qualifier next month.
“It’s devastating at home. I didn’t realize till I landed in Melbourne,” she said in a phone interview with the AP. “Everyone is wearing a mask at home, it’s the worst air quality. It’s scary. Right now we’re seeing the first stages of extreme climate change. Fires to golf ball (sized hail) raining down from the sky that no one can escape.”
A unprecedented fire season has claimed at least 33 lives since September, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 26.2 million acres (10.6 million hectares).
“For the people that are close, it’s terrifying,” she said. “People don’t realize how fast fire can move. People have been staying behind to defend their homes and land. It’s terrifying, having family and friends that live out there as well.”
Cambage started a GoFundMe page to raise money for wildfire relief. The money raised will be divided and distributed equally between many groups, including the Australian Red Cross Disaster Recovery and Relief and World Wildlife Foundation Australia.
“I have a platform and want to do what I can for my country right now,” she said.
She’s not the only one in the women’s basketball world trying to help. The WNBA donated $50,000 to the Red Cross. Australian national team coach Sandy Brondello, who also coaches the Phoenix Mercury, has donated $4,000.
“The NBA and WNBA, I’m so very grateful for their support. I went to the UFC fight and they were selling T-shirts with all proceeds going to Australia. I’m thankful for organizations around the world to support my country,” Cambage said.
New York Liberty guard Kia Nurse, who plays professionally in Australia in the winter, donated $5 for every point her team scored over a five-game span.
“I’ve had such an amazing experience in Australia over the last two years. Being here has helped me grow as a person and as a basketball player,” Nurse said. “I’ve created lifelong relationships here and it was so saddening to see what was happening to this beautiful country. I think it’s always different when you hear about disasters from afar versus truly being here. It’s also about bringing awareness to what is happening and how each of us can help no matter how big or little.”
Nurse, who is from Canada and has seen the devastation firsthand, is encouraging others to pitch in with help for Australia.
Cambage said her mother lives about an hour from some of the fires and that people have been evacuated to the town her family lives in. While all of her family and friends are safe, a town an hour away got completely wiped out.
Besides the loss of human life, Cambage has been extremely sad to see the loss of animals as well.
“It’s distressing because there’s a lot of livestock that are trapped and there’s been footage of people driving along farms, cows and sheep scorched to death on fences. all the koalas, lost a lot of kangaroos as well,” she said. “They are native Australian animals. It’s heartbreaking they have no escape. I’m plant-based and don’t eat animals. Livestock, a koala, all the same to me. Different but equal.”