Smoke haze plumes over vermilion skies, ash particles fall from above, and death toll continues to rise as widespread bushfires devastate Australia's regions during its fire season 2019-20. So far an estimated 29 people and one billion animals have been killed with approximations placing the quantity of land destroyed at almost 40 thousand square miles. About half of the burnt land is in the state of New South Wales, with nearly five million hectares being destroyed, though the fires impact every region of the country.
The season officially began in October 2019, when sparks or lightning ignited the first fires. Yet months of prolonged drought and the driest spring in the world on record s well as hotter temperatures, low humidity and rainfall, and strong winds – what scientists call “fire weather” – primed Australia for what is expected to be some of the most intense fires in its history.
Much of the fires started out because of natural causes. Dry lightning caused several outbreaks in East Gippsland, a region of Victoria, some of which traveled more than 12 miles in under six hours. More than 3,000 homes have been destroyed by the fires, with thousands homeless and forced to evacuate. In some towns, such as Mallacoota in East Gippsland, people were stranded on the beach or taken shelter on ocean boats before being forced to evacuate once more. The blazes have both plagued towns and forested areas. Fires ripped through New South Wales ' Blue Mountains National Park, and outer suburbs in Sydney's nearby city. The air quality here was 11 times the dangerous amount and was the equivalent of 37 cigarettes smoking in a single day. Kangaroo Island, an island off the coast of South Australia, is known for its vast wildlife and wildlife, but fires have killed hundreds of native kangaroos, koalas and other animals as well as burned nearly 90 per cent of the timber plantations on the island.
Australian scientists claim that as a result of the fires, between 20 and 100 endangered species of animals may be near extinction. An estimated 800 million species are threatened by the fires in New South Wales alone, not including birds, bats, or frogs, according to a study by University of Sydney professor Chris Dickman. Because of the "depletion of food and shelter resources," many of the animals will pass away in the fires, with the number expected to increase after the blazes subside.
On January 11, Australian officials released thousands of kilograms of food–mostly carrots and sweet potatoes–from planes across New South Wales to help feed the endangered wild brush-tailed rock-wallaby. Many burns from animals have already been too serious for paramedics to help them recover. Veterinarians in Mallacoota were forced to euthanize several kangaroos that had fled fires and took refuge on a golf course after the animals suffered third-degree burns that had gone past the treatment point.
On January 2, New South Wales declared a seven-day state of emergency and soon after, Victoria announced a disaster. Queensland also declared a brief state of emergency following the fires in November. Foreign countries like the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere sent in additional firefighters to help thousands of already employed Australian firefighters fight the blazes from the ground. The Australian Defense Force announced in a media release on Dec. 27 that it would "increase its support for fire authorities," as it deployed more aircraft, Navy cruisers, and helicopters to assist in the search and rescue and firefighting efforts.
As a form of protest, Melinda Plesman, a 35-year-old Nymboida resident, New South Wales, dumped the remains of her burned home outside the Australian parliament. She told reporters, "I lived on 200 acres of bush so I lost my house, I lost my way of life." She added that after losing her home from the fires, she now lives in a motel.