Lethal Inferno Rages (Getty Images)
Fires Continue To Ravage The Island Continent
Australia is facing an unprecedented national crisis, as bushfires tear through rural communities across the nation. Since September, at least 20 people have died and over 1,500 homes have been destroyed. Another 28 people have been confirmed missing after bushfires tore through busy tourist hubs in eastern Victoria at the turn of the new year. The scale of the threat is immense, and fires continue to burn, with authorities calling for people to evacuate their homes as the country braces for another weekend of catastrophic danger.
Australians caught up in the crisis are taking to social media and pleading for help. Entire towns have been flattened as fires snaked through bushland, across highways and up mountains. In New South Wales and Victoria, the most populous states in the country, people tried to outrun the blaze and highways were clogged with cars. In major cities, such as Sydney and Melbourne, a dense smoke has descended over busy metropolitan areas like a blanket. Some regions of the country recorded air quality measurements 20 times above the hazardous level.
What caused the fires?
Australia is a continent familiar with bushfires, bushfire management and the importance of fires in regenerating the land. The indigenous people who have lived across the island continent for tens of thousands of years have long known the importance of fire management and how it contributes to the health of ecosystems. Bushfires are a well-understood threat, but the fires now burning across the nation have been described as "unprecedented" in their ferocity and scale.
Fires can start in a number of ways -- from carelessly discarded cigarettes to lightning strikes and arson -- but they're fueled by a dizzying amount of factors. A lack of rain and low soil moisture can help enable small fires to grow in size, and coupled with the high temperatures and fierce winds that Australia has experienced in the last few months, these small fires can become huge infernos. In addition, with the fire season getting longer, the window to perform critical hazard reduction burns has decreased, giving fires a chance to really take hold.
NSW, have burned over half a million hectares, and scientists suggest it could be the largest single-ignition point fire in Australia's history. The total area that's been burned is rapidly approaching 6 million hectares (almost 15 million acres). That's almost seven times the amount of burnt area the Amazon experienced in 2019 and about three times the amount burnt in California's 2018 wildfires.
Who is fighting the fires?
The majority of these fires are burning in regional and rural areas where volunteer firefighting services are the chief firefighting organizations. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has around 70,000 members, but most of them are performing unpaid work to protect the lives and homes of their compatriots. A report by the BBC suggests approximately 3,000 firefighters are on the ground every day battling blazes.
American and Canadian firefighters and fire experts have been flown in over the past month to help control the blazes.
Click link or Graphic below to View bush fires from space