By N. Elmôr
Dozens of bushfires swept Australia from the end of 2019 and had their peak in February 2020. They began in New South Wales, in southeastern Australia, and even though they were concentrated in this area, they hit every Australian state. In November 2019 the Australian government declared a state of emergency. Roughly five million hectares burnt in New South Wales, dozens of people were killed and even more are missing, thousands of homes were destroyed meaning people were forced to evacuate and many ended up on the beaches. Thankfully, on February 13th authorities declared the fires contained when heavy and continuous rains helped stop the fires spreading (the rains were the heaviest they had been in three decades).
What caused the fires?
The period between December and February is fire season in Australia but the severity of the fires this year has lead them to become some of the most devastating bushfires ever to be recorded. December 2019 was Australia’s hottest month ever, and on December 18th the temperature reached a record-breaking 41.9 °C. With 2019 being Australia’s hottest and driest year, and this is what fueled the fires. All specialists point to this as a consequence of Climate Change, and thereby many demonstrations took place where protestors demanded an end to fossil fuels and action on climate change by the government.
What were the consequences of the fires?
Apart from the fires themselves, the resulting smoke was a significant problem. On January 1st the government recorded the worst pollution ever to be seen, and the air quality index was 23 times higher than what is considered “hazardous”. The smoke travelled as far as 1000 miles, reaching New Zealand. An estimation has been made that 1 billion animals were killed in the fires; this number includes tens of thousands of koalas. Approximately 30% of the koala’s habitats have also been destroyed. The fires have worsened the already existing threats to Australia’s unique ecosystems which has the highest rate of extinction of native animals. The continent is home to 244 species that are not found anywhere else.
Calma J, “What you need to know about the Australia bushfires”, The Verge, published 13/02/20, accessed 22/03/20, https://www.theverge.com/2020/1/3/21048891/australia-wildfires-koalas-climate-change-bushfires-deaths-animals-damage