Mariah Jurow

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — The Australian bushfires may be taking place thousands of miles away from Winthrop University, but the campus is still feeling the impact, as there are a number of student athletes from Australia.

Currently, there are more than 100 fires burning across the country.

Tom Pupavac, a junior member of the Winthrop men’s basketball team, is one of at least a handful of Australian students on campus who are concerned about the disaster his country is facing.

“My family has been fine really, most of the damage is caused around my home by smoke. There hasn’t been fires (that have) really struck through my area where I’m living back home,” said Pupavac.

Pupavac, who is from Geelong, Australia, spoke to the Palmetto Report about the tragedy and how the Winthrop community may be able to help.

Tom Pupavac, a junior member of the men’s basketball team who is from Geelong, Australia, is one of at least a handful of Australian students studying at Winthrop (photo: courtesy of Tom Pupavac).

“The smoke has been pretty bad. Mom and Dad have been, kind of back and forth with me, telling me that they’ve been having to come inside rather than being outside. So it’s pretty bad right now,” he said. “Smoke is actually leaving our country and heading to New Zealand. You can see smoke clouds in different countries, which is crazy.”

Thus far, the fires have killed more than 28 people nationwide and have destroyed or damaged more than 3,000 homes.

Bushfires are common to Australia, especially during the driest time of the year, however, the fires that began in late July have continued to spread making this bushfire season one of the most devastating the country has seen in decades.

Kyle Zunic, a junior from Wollongong, Australia, is another member of the men’s basketball team who, along with Pupavac, can be seen in videos asking for donations to the Australian Red Cross via the Winthrop Athletics Twitter site.

“About an hour south of where I’m from it has been one of the worst bushfires recorded in history. So any help would be much appreciated,” said Zunic, in the video.

Pupavac said he hopes people might consider donating money, which could be used to help Australia’s wildlife.

“Their homes are being destroyed, it’s just awful. Any donations that go towards them are greatly appreciated,” he said. “To help replenish these farms, these lands and making sure our animals are safe and that none of them have the chance of being endangered. It would be awful. Money would be greatly appreciated.”

It’s been estimated that 14.6 million acres of land has been burned across the country so far and 480 million animals have been killed.

“You see posts on social media and whatnot and my friends are showing me areas of land that has just been burned and all of these animals that have been left helpless. It’s really sad to see,” said Pupavac.

“We have a lot of unique wildlife and to see all of these animals like kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, wombats, all of these really beautiful animals, just being kind of burned, they’re just left helpless.”

Pupavac said he’s grateful from the support he has received from the Winthrop community.

“Everyone is kind of asking me, ‘how is your family? Are they okay? What are you feeling?’ People are coming up to me, like professors and friends, and just anyone who knows where I’m from are reaching out to me. It’s really nice to see,” he said.

“There is another guy on the tennis team who is from Brisbane, in another state different to (me) and his situation is different. Everyone is kind of aware of it now and they are all looking out to help, which is good to see.”