‘Australia is on fire.’
This has been the headline on most news outlets and across social media for the past few weeks now. But Australia has annual bushfires. What makes this one so different?
Firstly, the fires that have been spreading across the country have been on a level that is unprecedented. Across the country, 10.7 million hectares of bush have been burned according to the QFES, which is the equivalent to an area almost five times the size of Wales. Twenty-seven people have died so far and over 2,000 homes have been destroyed. Nationwide, around one billion animals have been killed from the bushfires and several species are at risk of having their entire habitat destroyed. Half a billion animals have been killed in New South Wales (NSW) alone. Furthermore, the fires have been more uncontrollable and harder to fight this year.
Whilst climate change has been blamed for worsening these fires, there have been several other causes which have contributed to the disaster these fires have caused.
Due to recent cuts within the fire service, volunteer firefighters make up a large portion of those fighting the fires. To accommodate this, extra leave is given to those who volunteer to fight the fires. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has been criticised for being absent from the country on holiday whilst the fire crisis was starting, but has recently come out saying that there will be up to $4,200 going to each of the volunteer firefighters that fight blazes for more than ten days.
Whilst climate change has been blamed for worsening these fires, there have been several other causes which have contributed to the disaster these fires have caused. One cause is human. Twenty-four people have been caught and charged with purposefully starting bushfires in the state of NSW. The police have also taken legal action against another 183 for fire-related offences since November. With the fires so bad, one has to question how people can still be causing them in the first place.
Another reason the fires are so bad this year has been the drought that has been ongoing since the springtime (around September in Australia). This has meant the bush area was particularly dry, and therefore susceptible to easier spreading fires. Moreover, Australia has been experiencing a heatwave that has been higher than previous years. In December, the country saw its highest nationwide average temperature record broken with places reaching above 40°C. These conditions are more conducive to fires starting and spreading over a greater area.
Australia is only halfway through its summer season, with temperatures set to increase over the rest of January and February. These fires are going to be here for a while yet, and will likely increase. However, one ray of hope in all this is the sheer amount of support and people that have volunteered or donated to causes that are helping those affected.
This post was written by Jessie Hammond and edited by Miles Martin