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Cal Poly study abroad students navigate fire-ravaged Australia while studying wine industry

Posted at 6:44 AM, Jan 09, 2020

The deadly wildfires ravaging Australia are difficult to watch from afar but a group of Cal Poly students studying abroad has a front row seat to the devastation.

"We have a study abroad program focusing on the wine industry here in Australia," Cal Poly Agribusiness Prof. Lynn Hamilton said. "It has a lot of similarities to the central coast in terms of having different wine industries and climates."

Like the Central Coast, the Australian landscape produces highly sought after wine grape varietals. But it's also primed for fire.

Living in California, many Cal Poly students and professors are familiar with wildfires but now, they're experiencing the destruction on a different ocean-front.

"Every now and then, I just feel nauseous at what's happened," Angela Rentoul, a resident of Malacoota, told an Australian news outlet.

Rentoul watched her town turn to ash. Meanwhile, a man from South Wales is one of many residents with no home to return to.

"Unbelievable," Bruce Honeyman told an Australian news outlet. "We made the right decision to evacuate."

Fires are burning all across the country, but fortunately, the Cal Poly students and staff are about 100 miles from the nearest blaze.

"Yesterday, when the winds were shifting from the south, we saw a little haze in the city," Hamilton said.

From their post at the University of Adelaide in southern Australia, the Cal Poly crew planned to visit Kangaroo Island, but it's now a disaster site.

"And also Adelaide Hills, which is kind of like Paso, a big wine region," Hamilton said. "It had significant fires in December and a lot of wineries and vineyards were destroyed, so that's going to affect a lot of our tours most likely."

Perhaps the biggest impact is not the change in itinerary, but the interactions with residents.

"Just a feeling of sorrow and dismay about what's happened in their beautiful country," Hamilton said.

The Cal Poly study abroad program lasts through the end of February, so the group is in for many more weeks of uncertainty.