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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375 Comments
  • hopethegoat5201
    hopethegoat5201Sunday, February 23, 2020 at 3:15 pm
    Poor 🐨!! Such a sad story! Praying for the fires to end!! #StayStrongAustralia!😥😮😣
    • tsuyuasui12
      tsuyuasui12Thursday, February 20, 2020 at 11:20 am
      poor koalas i hope more good comes for them soon
      • trek
        trekMonday, February 17, 2020 at 8:46 am
        I too. I feel bad for all the animals and their homes
        • midlandlover
          midlandloverMonday, February 17, 2020 at 8:46 am
          Oh no! I was praying for all the people in Australia the people and animals! So people and animals have died. #Stay Strong Australia!
          • am-olm1
            am-olm1Monday, February 17, 2020 at 7:53 am
            You know the mouse in that picture?
            • am-olm1
              am-olm1Monday, February 17, 2020 at 7:53 am
              I feel really bad for it
            • picklefeathers
              picklefeathersSunday, February 16, 2020 at 5:10 pm
              I'm praying for you Australia.🙏😪
              • am-olm1
                am-olm1Monday, February 17, 2020 at 7:53 am
                Me too
              • potterforever
                potterforeverSaturday, February 15, 2020 at 6:42 am
                The dog might be a blue heeler. But I'm not sure.
                • am-olm1
                  am-olm1Monday, February 17, 2020 at 7:53 am
                  I don’t know either
                • potterforever
                  potterforeverSaturday, February 15, 2020 at 6:39 am
                  I my gosh!! That's horrible!!! #staystrongAustralia!!!!!!!😢
                  • am-olm1
                    am-olm1Monday, February 17, 2020 at 7:54 am
                    Yep! Stay strong!
                  • athlete
                    athleteThursday, February 13, 2020 at 4:47 pm
                    So many people must be so scared
                    • am-olm1
                      am-olm1Monday, February 17, 2020 at 7:54 am
                      Many people are scared
                    • athlete
                      athleteTuesday, February 11, 2020 at 6:16 pm
                      Whoever trained the dog is great