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Australian Wildfires Caught Attention of Entire World

The recent news of Australian wildfires has caught the attention of the international community as they have continued to surge across the continent, causing more and more damage along the way. Bushfires in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have encompassed the most recent trajectory for damage as of Jan. 22, 2020. According to CNN Australia, the fires have shown no signs of stopping in the foreseeable future, despite the expansive damage which has already occurred.

Hourly updates show that there have been 30 recorded deaths as a result of the fires (four of which were firefighters) and 3,000 homes destroyed in New South Wales alone. Though fires have occurred in every state across the continent, New South Wales has been hit the hardest by this crisis.

Despite international assistance (the United States included) working with national and local efforts, firefighters are struggling to contain these blazes. The persistence of the fires has been encouraged by excessive heat and drought across the nation. In fact, this increase in forest fire danger was predicted by The State of the Climate 2018 report.

This report noted that the ten warmest recorded sea surface temperatures have been recorded in the past decade surrounding Australia, which has contributed to weather changes on land, as well as coral bleaching and wildlife migration patterns. These changes, as well as many other phenomena attributed to climate change, have affected the local weather in Australia and added to the likelihood of the fires which rage across Australia presently.

These fires far from affect only the forest and bush regions of Australia. Early in December, Melbourne and Sydney suburbs were damaged by the fires, resulting in extremely dangerous smoke levels throughout the city. In Sydney, the air quality was so bad it measured 11 times the “hazardous” air quality level. As with most natural disasters, these damages affected disadvantaged and aboriginal groups first.

Fires have ranged from small blazes to infernos stretching across 10 million hectares of land which have been burning for months at a time. For reference, England occupies approximately 13 million hectares of land.

These fires have been attributed to several different factors ranging from natural causes, to climate change effects and deliberate arson. Each summer, Australia expects a fire season due to dry climate, making it easy for small fires to start and spread. The vast majority of fires are due to natural causes, such as dry lightning strikes and drought-affected climate. There have also been 24 people charged with deliberate fire-starting since Nov. 2019 and legal action taken against 183 people for “fire-related offenses”.

Bushfires in Australia have always been dangerous and a cause for local concern. However, conditions have been particularly severe this season as Australia is experiencing some of the worst droughts recorded in decades. An additional heatwave in December left citizens of Australia and the wildlife baking at 113-120 degrees Fahrenheit. Strong winds have caused the fire and smoke to travel more rapidly. In fact, the wind level has caused the death of a 28-year old volunteer firefighter when his truck was blown over by high winds.

Experts note that while these fires may be “normal” for Australian climate, the effects and impact of these disasters have significantly worsened due to climate change. Fires have begun earlier in the season, lasted longer, spread quicker and burned with more intensity than ever before.

Sources: BBC, CNN, SMH, theclassroom.com

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