Australia is reeling from continent wide brush fires. The fires have been continuous since September 2019. Australia’s southeast coast has been hit the hardest, but nearly all of the island has been ravished by wildfires; some set accidentally and others deliberately. Over 20 million acres across the country have burned so far, and there are still months to go in this 2019-2020 fire season.
Over the last few months Australia’s deadly brush fires have claimed over 2,000 homes around the country. This fire season has already burned enough acreage to fill the entire country of Ireland. Areas all over the continent are being affected including New South Wales, Victoria and other various coastal areas. The eastern seaboard is getting the worst of it.
In New South Wales and Victoria alone 10 million acres have burned; roughly the size of the state of Maryland. That’s not to mention the millions of acres across the rest of Australia’s continent. It is estimated that an additional 14+ million acres have burned these last 4 months.
These non-discriminating blazes have destroyed homes, commercial districts and forest land. Along with commercial brick and mortar, thousands of acres of precious and prime farmland have been burned throughout Australia. The magnitude of property and land destroyed in this devastating inferno is greater than all other international fire catastrophes that occurred in 2019 combined. The fires in California, Brazil and Indonesia that occurred in 2019 did not equate to half the destruction Australia has witnessed. Luckily the fires have mostly started in relatively unpopulated areas, but as they continue to roll through the brush, they creep closer to populated cities.
The enormous amount of smoke being produce has been photographed from space and traveled as far as South America; approximately 6,800 – 9,000 miles. New Zealand had to announce island-wide that they no longer need to call 911 about the smoke or abnormally orange sky.
Human and Animal Death Tolls
Between September 2019 and January 8th 2020, this devastating blaze has consumed the lives of 26 people. Compared to the amount of land destroyed the death toll could be much worse. The list of people that perished included not only those stuck in the path of the flames, but those that ran towards the fire to help. Firefighters and good samaritans have fallen victim to this wildfire crisis.
While the human death toll is considered by some to be a fortunately low number, the amount of animal lives lost is immeasurable. The plentiful environment of Australia provides an ecosystem of vast wildlife. Experts estimate that over 800 million animals have been killed by the ravenous flames. Experts on kangaroo island have said half their koala population has been wiped out. It is estimated that by the end of fire season, over a billion animals will have perished and many already endangered species may go extinct.
Acres upon millions of acres of this island’s unique flora and fauna environment have simply been swept off this earth. Thousands of Australian gum trees have been burned up. Australia’s wildlife district will take decades to recover from this single brush fire season.
Record Breaking Temperatures and Droughts
During the coming weeks the coastal regions of Australia are expected to reach a whopping 104 degrees ℉, with inland areas heating up even more. The year of 2019 marked the continent’s hottest and driest year yet. This record peaked in December when Australia experienced the hottest day ever recorded.
Sydney received its first ever ‘catastrophic’ fire warning, in November 2019. Over the past 10 years, droughts have dried up most of the greenery and farmland. Droughts have made Australia unbearably hot, dry and increasingly more susceptible to wildfires. The heat and dryness has reached peak levels and Australia is now battling the worst fire season to date, with months still left in the fight.
The Rain Helps, Slightly
Rain showers bring much needed relief to the men and women helping to fight these fires. Australian firefighters cannot keep up with the enormous amount of fires sweeping across the country and rain storms aid in the efforts. But with thunderstorms comes lightning which is more than capable of making the situation worse in several ways. Strong winds can also fan the fires causing them to spread more quickly.
Australia’s Battle Aided
The Australian Department of Defense organized the re-purposing of Combat helicopters and warships to help relocate tens of thousands of coastal locals. The evacuees included 4,000 people that were trapped for days on the shore of Mallacoota. This will go down as the largest seaside evacuation in Australia’s history, since World War II.
Celebrities, both from and/or living in Australia and stateside have pledged millions of dollars to the Australian firefighters, Australian Red Cross, WWF and other helpful agencies. Additionally, Prime Minister Morrison announced the establishment of the ‘Brushfire Recovery Agency’. This agency will run for at least 2 years to help survivors re-establish their footing and rebuild.
The country of New Zealand has helped their neighbor by sending in additional firefighters and troops to help the already exhausted volunteer and reserve firefighters. Americas USFS (US Forest Services) and DOI (Department of Interior) have intermittently been dispatching willing fire personal to help battle the flames. Since December the US has sent over 70 additional firefighters.
The New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service provided a much-needed load of food and water for the animals starving after not being able to find meals. The hundreds of fires have burned through their habitats, taking with them the animals food source. The department dropped well over 4,000 pounds of carrots and sweet potatoes by plane and additionally delivered water by land. They delivered these loads across 6 different colonies. They are expected to keep these deliveries up until adequate natural resources are back in action.
Australia’s Catastrophe Continues
The massive amount of fires has released a toxic amount of smoke into the atmosphere surrounding the island. The air quality has been categorized as hazardous. Large amounts of medical face masks have been brought in to help the locals and tourists protect their airways. Australian authorities have urged more than a quarter of a million natives to evacuate their homes across the country. Locals are not the only people being evacuated, many tourists are also being displaced.
Australia’s Economical Devastation
Australia is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Its beautiful landscape, insane wild animal population, warm & sunny climate and famous landmarks make it an attractive vacation spot. Winter in the northern hemisphere, marks Australia’s peak tourism season. People from all over flock to the mystical land of wallabies and koalas.
These fires have caused the cancellation of many events and vacation plans. The overall economy of the country will be greatly impacted by the lack of tourism within the coming years.
For some towns, disaster has struck more than once. In Cooma a water tower containing approximately 1.2 million gallons of water collapsed causing a flood and filling homes with thick muddy water.
To learn more about fire safety, how to prepare for fires and how to escape them visit our Fire Preparedness page.