In September of 2019, Australia kicked off one of the worst bush fire seasons the continent has ever seen.
According to CNN, so far 17.9 million acres of Australian land have been scorched.
Vox helped put those numbers in perspective with this quote: "That’s an area larger than West Virginia, and more than eight times the area that burned in California in 2018, the state’s most destructive year for wildfires."
However, that isn't even the most heart-wrenching statistic to come from the devastating flames.
Almost 2,000 homes have been destroyed, a number growing by the hundreds as the weeks linger on. Twenty-seven people have lost their lives.
And one of the most crushing stats is the estimated loss of animal life: 1 billion. Unfathomable.
There is also an understandable assumption by many in the scientific community that many of the ecosystems effected by the fires will have long-term consequences.
According to NY Times, Australia's firefighter force is largely composed of volunteer efforts, and their government is mostly expecting them to work without pay despite 12 hour shifts and now months on end without working. This sentiment has caused understandable outrage from the community towards their Prime Minister.
...Members of the Fire Brigade Employees Union, which represents firefighters in Australia, said at a news conference that it was “bewildering” that the government expected volunteer firefighters to work for months on end without compensation.
According to the Red Cross:
The pace at which the bushfires have spread and the subsequent heavy smoke have made it difficult for emergency services to access and evacuate some communities, at times forcing residents to flee to beaches and other water bodies to avoid impact and await rescue.
Sarah Legge, an ecologist at the Australian National University, is studying how animals respond to the fire and said:
Hundreds of species have been affected by these fires. That includes many dozens of threatened species; some of these will be brought to the brink of extinction as a result of this event. And if they’re not made extinct by this event, I think this is the beginning of the end for them. Because this event will reoccur. It’s awful. It will be ecosystem collapse in a lot of cases. And we’re not exactly sure what we’ll end up with at the end of it all.
According to Vox:
Australia is one of the great biodiversity hotspots in the world. The island continent was isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years, allowing evolution to take strange new paths, and until fairly recently, with little human influence.
According to Vox:
Australia’s government created a new National Bushfire Recovery Agency to help fund fire relief and authorized payments to volunteer firefighters, some of whom have now spent months on duty.
In some areas, the smoke in the air has the same impact upon inhaling as smoking almost 40 cigarettes.
David Smart, captain of the volunteer firefighters in the Kangaroo Valley, 100 miles south of Sydney, said last month:
I think everyone is very stressed. People are tired. It’s been going for weeks on end.
Did you know? Around 244 species of mammals are found only in Australia.
In the past, "fire season" spread fires out over time and were easier to manage.
The US Environmental Protection Agency explains where the biggest health threat from smoke comes from:
These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases — and even are linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions.
According to NY Times:
Sandra Lunardi, the acting chief executive of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, which coordinates firefighting efforts, said it would be difficult to institute a compensation system.
“To pay firefighters to be present in the numbers necessary and in the places necessary to give quick response to bush fires” in rural Australia was “a significant challenge, particularly when these fires are prolonged and frequent,” Ms. Lunardi wrote by email.
Baby kangaroos live in their mother's pouch for 8 to 11 months, depending on which breed they are.
According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s 2018 State of the Climate report:
Australia’s climate has warmed by just over 1° C since 1910, leading to an increase in the frequency of extreme heat events.
According to Vox:
After a major disaster, studies find a 5 percent to 15 percent increase in the incidence of mental health problems among survivors. That means the impacts of these devastating blazes will linger long after the last embers are snuffed out.
National Geographic reports:
...Scientists fear that when rains eventually fall, they will wash charred debris into rivers, dams, and the ocean, killing wildlife and even tainting the drinking supplies of major cities, such as Sydney.
The Red Cross reports:
“The intensity and size of bushfires in some areas has led to the creation of their own weather systems generating pyrocumulonimbus clouds, trapping heat and generating strong wind and lightning strikes, in turn sparking further fires.”
Disturbance on this scale is almost certainly going to impact biodiversity. I’m remarkably worried about the effects on freshwater ecosystems.
The scale of these fires are unprecedented, and the images we are seeing of ash- and soot-laden waves along our beaches indicate that there is a very high density in the water column, so that is likely to have localized effects in those areas.
David Bowman, the director of the Fire Centre Research Hub at the University of Tasmania, told TIME:
We’re in the middle of a war situation…mass evacuations, the involvement of the military, hugely exhausted firefighting campaigns, it’s difficult to explain.
Bowman also said:
The intensity, the scale, the number, the geographical range, the fact that they’re occurring simultaneously, and the sorts of environments that are burning are all extraordinary
Firefighters from both Canada and the United States have flown into Australia to help aid in firefighting efforts.
The #nofilter hashtag has been startling as it makes it's way across social media. The colors in the sky could shake you to your core.
Victoria’s state emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp said:
It is pitch-black. It is quite scary… the community right now is under threat, but we will hold our line and they will be saved and protected.
According to Vox:
The smoke is so plentiful that NOAA reports it’s “in the process of circumnavigating the planet,” showing up over South America after being pushed there by the wind.
Most of New Zealand is able to visibly see the impact despite the distance between them.
The last few years have been pretty brutal for fires, but Australia's bushfires are taking the cake right now.
An incredible image, a brutal reality.
A whole new world.
It looks like the Apocalypse.
The numbers continue to climb.
It would be beautiful if it wasn't so horrifying.
Is this Hell?
Kids grow up devastatingly fast in times of extreme events.
Undoubtedly, the air quality has a long way to go now.
This perspective is... hard.
It could easily feel like the end of the world.
It's hard when it's a little beautiful, but it's only a little beautiful from the safety of distance. The harsh reality is too much.
"Happy" New Year
This picture is stunning and horrifying.
When there's enough fire to look like lava...
It really does look like Hell.
Beaches are supposed to be a source of fun and comfort.
The perspectives are always intense.
So. Much. Smoke.
Very orange. Very scary.
For people who feel helpless but want to help: The World Wildlife Fund is collecting donations to restore habitats for koalas impacted by the fires. You can also donate to the Australian Red Cross’s fire recovery and relief fund.
Share your thoughts in the comment section now.