Australia rang in the new year by issuing a state of emergency. With high winds and an average high of 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit, fires have touched each of Australia’s six states. Worst affected are the states of New South Wales and Victoria, with nine deaths just this past week. Over 26 million acres are reported to have burned, destroying towns, national parks, and protected environmental areas in the fire’s path.
Of the approximately 100 ongoing wildfires in Australia, the majority are caused by record breaking temperatures and droughts. However, Australian officials have arrested 183 people in connections with this season’s fires, 40 of them juveniles. Of these 183 people, 24 have been charged for intentionally starting these fires.
Thousands of natives and tourists fled areas in the fire’s paths, with the Australian navy sending ships to rescue thousands of stranded civilians. Over 2000 homes have been destroyed throughout New South Wales and Victoria.
“Over 26 million acres are reported to have burned, destroying towns, national parks, and protected environmental areas in the fire’s path. “
Officials estimate that approximately one billion animals have died due to the fires, rendering some smaller species on the verge of extinction. Better known species, such as kangaroos and koalas, have taken the brunt of these fires. This leaves the species in a dangerous condition as neither species resides anywhere outside of Australia, apart from zoos. According to research done by National Geographic in 2019, around 392,000 koalas live in Australia. Of these koalas, 25,000 are believed to have died due to the fires, roughly 6.3% of Australia’s koala population.
Not only animals have been impacted by these wildfires. Thousands of people across Australia have been treated for smoke inhalation and asthma attacks. Sydney, Australia’s capital city, has had a 10% increase in hospital admissions.
“Officials estimate that approximately one billion animals have died due to the fires, rendering some smaller species on the verge of extinction.”
Australians in coastal communities have taken to the beaches, rather than escape through areas close to the fire. Thousands have set up camp, bringing animals, cars, and treasured possessions with them. “Here and in other areas, the fire just went through and cleared everything in its way. It was like a rocket going through. I dropped my phone on the ground and didn’t even have time to pick it up before screaming at my family to get in the car,” said Stephen Muse of Canberra Australia.
Many are criticizing Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s actions regarding the fires. Morrison is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia which does not accept the idea that climate change is a major problem facing the world today. This has led to much backlash from the Australian people, who believe that these fires are in part caused by rising global temperatures.
As fires continue to rage throughout the country, there is a growing concern of fires of this magnitude in the future. Morrison says, “Getting the balance right is what Australia has always been able to achieve,” he said. “Right now, the focus as I said at the outset, is to fight these fires, and get people to safety.”