In September of 2019, dozens of fires and heatwaves struck Australia, specifically starting in New South Wales, causing the government to declare it an emergency by November. At least 28 people were found dead, including three volunteer firefighters, more are missing, and around 3,000 homes are damaged are destroyed. Roughly 26 million acres have burned, which as a reference, is a similar size of South Korea, rapidly becoming one of the most devastating fires history has seen.
Summer in Australia starts from December to February, the weather being extremely dry and hot. Fire season typically peaks in late January and early February, provoking more panic and worry from people worldwide. However, the fires aren’t the only problem Australia has to face, as smoke has become another major issue. Australia’s capital recorded the worst pollution it’s ever seen on Jan. 1, with the air quality 23 times higher than what is considered hazardous. Creeping into birthing rooms, emergency rooms, preventing MRI machines from working, and triggering respiratory distress in one woman who died soon after are all outcomes of the uncontrollable amount of smoke that results from the wildfires.
Because most fires initially started in forests and dry locations with a large amount of wood, it is natural that more animals have faced worse than people. According to one estimate from the University of Sydney, more than one billion mammals, birds, and reptiles lost their lives in the fires. Out of the one billion, around 8,000 koalas are believed to have died, which is roughly a third of all koalas in New South Wales. “The potential impacts on wildlife are devastating,” said Crystal Kolden, an associate professor of fire science at the University of Idaho. “There won’t be a full accounting for how bad it actually is for years. Although some ecosystems, like eucalyptus forests, are prone to fires and will come back, Australia is also home to pockets of vegetation, inhabited by species that have managed to survive for millions of years.”
Australia’s only hope right now are volunteer firefighters, especially in rural and countryside bushes where not a large number of professional firefighters are available. To bolster the local forces, the Australian military sent in its own aircraft and vessels and 3,000 army reservists. Help is also coming from abroad – the United States and Canada have sent firefighters to battle the blazes, and Malaysia is preparing to send help as well. Despite this help, experts say that there is not much firefighters can do, until there is enough rain to stop the blazes or the fires run out of fuel until they burn themselves out. A large number of celebrities have also helped out, such as Ellen DeGeneres, Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes, Chris Hemsworth, Kylie Jenner, and a lot more. These stars donated from about $500,000 to $1 million to various different organizations, showing their concern, while also encouraging their fans and followers to do the same as well. Although there is much effort being put into stopping the burns and damage, only time will tell exactly how much the fires have harmed Australia.