Australia's Devastating Bushfires Show No Signs Of Abating

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Fires across Australia as of January 6, 2020 (Credit NPR/Google Maps screenshot)

Though bushfires are a common occurrence in Australia during the summer, they have never been as devastating or as widespread as the ones currently burning across the country. Since September 2019, the blazes, fueled by dry foliage and strong winds, have scorched over 15.6 million acres (24,000 square miles) — an area larger than the state of West Virginia. Even worse, officials warn that Australia's wildfire season — which generally lasts through March — is nowhere near its end.

With over 130 active fires, 50 of which remain uncontrolled, New South Wales (NSW), Australia's most populous state has been particularly hard hit. The blazes have destroyed over 1588 homes, damaged 653 more, and killed 19 people and almost 500 million animals, including a third of NSW's koala colony, or about 8,000 bears. Nature Conservation Council ecologist Mark Graham told the Australian parliament: “[Koalas] really have no capacity to move fast enough to get away [from the flames]." Rescue workers have also reported seeing kangaroos trying to escape the massive walls of fire and cockatoos falling dead from trees.

The Australian fires have burned through millions of acres since September 2019 (Credit Statista/CC-SA-20)

The fires have also severely impacted the wildlife on Kangaroo Island off the country's southern coast. Among the hardest hit are critically-endangered small marsupials called dunnarts, a species whose 300 remaining members are all believed to have perished, as have about half of the island's 50,000 koala bears.

"The fires have also been devastating for Australia’s wildlife and wild places, as vital areas of bush, forests, and parks have been scorched and many millions of animals killed or injured," Dr. Stuart Blanch, senior manager of land clearing and restoration with World Wildlife Fund-Australia, told ABC News. "Until the fires subside, the full extent of damage will remain unknown."

The fires may have eliminated all of the critically-endangered dunnarts (Credit: theconversation.com)

Experts estimate that the bushfires have released 350 million tons of carbon dioxide, or about two-thirds of the nations' annual emissions, in just the past three months. Dr. Pep Canadell, a senior research scientist for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the executive director of the Global Carbon Project, believes that due to the slow regrowth rates in Australian forests between bushfires, it could take 100 years for the carbon to be absorbed.

"We used to see hundreds of thousands of hectares burned in bushfires, but now we are seeing millions on fire," he said. "It is drying in south-east Australia, that prompts the question if these trees will be able to bring all that carbon back [into regrowth]. We may need more than 100 years to get back to where we were after those mature forests with beautiful tall gum trees have burned."

Bear, a cattle dog crossbreed, has been helping rescuers seek out injured koala bears since November 2019 (Credit: YouTube screen capture)

Australia's plight has not gone unnoticed. Since November 2019, firefighters from New Zealand, the USA, and Canada have been working tirelessly alongside their Australian counterparts to help curtail the fires' spread. People across the world, including celebrities like Australian actors Nicole Kidman and Chris Hemsworth, are donating large sums of money to help the recovery efforts. At the request of the Animal Rescue Craft Guild, hundreds of volunteers from the US, the UK, Hong Kong, France, and Germany are busy knitting bat wraps, joey pouches, birds nests, possum boxes, koala mittens, and other items for animals injured and rendered homeless by the blazes.

Humans are not the only ones pitching in. Bear, a cattle dog crossbreed trained to detect live koalas through the scent of their fur, has been scouting fire-ravaged areas for the past three months in search of the marsupials. Though the animals can survive for weeks after a fire, they often lay camouflaged high in the treetops, making it difficult for humans to detect them.

#StaystrongAustralia!

Resources: www.ifaw.org, NPR.org, independent.co.uk, CNN.com

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312 Comments
  • rabbit1226
    rabbit1226Sunday, January 26, 2020 at 8:02 am
    This is SO SAD!!!!!!!! Why is it so bad?? That would be so sad if you live there. And think about the animals!!
    • soniccoder
      soniccoderFriday, January 24, 2020 at 9:11 am
      sad. very sad. can't stand to see this stuff
      • im_happy
        im_happyThursday, January 23, 2020 at 1:18 pm
        This is getting worse and worse, but people are risking their lives to stop it. Today on the news, it said 3 Americans died trying to fight the bush fires. It's so sad that these bush fires are taking so many lives. Animals, plants, bugs, people. Everyone can donate to Australia to help it fight. Save our Australia, please.
        • 123456aleis
          123456aleisThursday, January 23, 2020 at 12:50 pm
          sooo SAD!!!
          • gadawowo-157851300502
            gadawowo-157851300502Thursday, January 23, 2020 at 12:30 pm
            ti sad i hope no one dead
            • prefecture
              prefectureThursday, January 23, 2020 at 10:48 am
              We can't just hope for things to happen if there is a way to help put all your effort in to helping to save the environment you can not just hope it all goes away like someone's problem's it's not that easy thats why you have to stand and DO SOMETHING FOR THE KUALA"S
              • prefecture
                prefectureThursday, January 23, 2020 at 10:49 am
                so true
              • kendell_22609
                kendell_22609Thursday, January 23, 2020 at 8:12 am
                sad
                • oofypants
                  oofypantsWednesday, January 22, 2020 at 6:33 pm
                  I wanna donate rip to the 1 bil animals that died PLEASE GOD HELP THE FIREZ
                  • thecoolsquid
                    thecoolsquidWednesday, January 22, 2020 at 6:21 pm
                    #stay strong Australia!🐶
                    • 1belvedereesol
                      1belvedereesolWednesday, January 22, 2020 at 2:53 pm
                      I hope the rain is helping!