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Gippsland, Victoria, Jan. 5: A Royal Australian Navy MRH-90 helicopter crew member looks out at fires on an approach to Cann River. Australia has called up thousands of air force, navy and army reservists to combat fires across the country.

Private Michael Currie/Australian Department of Defence/Handout via REUTERS

The latest

  • Fire conditions eased in Australia on Saturday after a difficult night for firefighters, which resulted in the death of a firefighter from Parks Victoria. Authorities say they expect at least a week of milder weather in which to step up defences against the huge blazes still burning, an area roughly the size of South Korea.
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pledged A$2 billion to a newly created National Bushfire Recovery Agency. The Prime Minister has been heavily criticised by the opposition and environmental groups for his handling of the bushfires and for his party’s stance on climate change. He will address the crisis again on Sunday.
  • As of Saturday, at least 28 people have been killed and 2,000 homes destroyed by the blazes.
SYDNEY 3-DAY FORECAST

(Click for external site)


The scale of the disaster so far

How much land has burned

As of Jan. 6, more than eight million hectares of land across the continent have burned this year, an area about the size of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island combined. Since September, the start of Australia’s spring, the most damage has been in the most populous eastern states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. But few areas of the country have been untouched by either the fires themselves, the smoke they produce, or the temperatures in excess of 40 degrees that have made fire conditions worse.

AUSTRALIA’S WILDFIRES

Hot weather and strong winds that are forecast will likely worsen the wildfires across the country

MAXIMUM AIR TEMPERATURE

Celsius, Jan. 2, 2020

25

30

35

40

45°C

Dots represent hotspots from the past 24 hours*

NT

AUSTRALIA

WA

QLD

SA

NSW

Sydney

VIC

Melbourne

0

450

KM

TASMANIA

*As of Jan. 3, 9:00 a.m.

THE SCALE OF AUSTRALIA’S WILDFIRES

Bushfires of unprecedented scale and duration have scorched more than 52,500 square km of land this season across the eastern Australian states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. The burned area across the three Australian states is almost the size of Nova Scotia (55,284 sq km)

AUSTRALIA’S WILDFIRES

Eastern states during the current bushfire season

VICTORIA

8,000 sq km

QUEENSLAND

2,500 sq km

NEW SOUTH WALES

42,000 sq km

OTHER FIRES FOR COMPARISON

FORT McMURRAY

FIRE OF 2016

5,895 sq km

BRAZIL

Whole of 2019

9,123 sq km

U.S.

Whole of 2019

18,729 sq km

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

REUTERS; BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY; NASA;

STATISTICS CANADA

AUSTRALIA’S WILDFIRES

Hot weather and strong winds that are forecast will likely worsen the wildfires across the country

MAXIMUM AIR TEMPERATURE

Celsius, Jan. 2, 2020

25

30

35

40

45°C

Dots represent hotspots from the past 24 hours*

NT

AUSTRALIA

WA

QLD

SA

NSW

Sydney

VIC

Melbourne

0

450

KM

TASMANIA

*As of Jan. 3, 9:00 a.m.

THE SCALE OF AUSTRALIA’S WILDFIRES

Bushfires of unprecedented scale and duration have scorched more than 52,500 square km of land this season across the eastern Australian states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. The burned area across the three Australian states is almost the size of Nova Scotia (55,284 sq km)

AUSTRALIA’S WILDFIRES

Eastern states during the current bushfire season

VICTORIA

8,000 sq km

QUEENSLAND

2,500 sq km

NEW SOUTH WALES

42,000 sq km

OTHER FIRES FOR COMPARISON

FORT McMURRAY

FIRE OF 2016

5,895 sq km

BRAZIL

Whole of 2019

9,123 sq km

U.S.

Whole of 2019

18,729 sq km

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: REUTERS;

BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY; NASA; STATISTICS CANADA

AUSTRALIA’S WILDFIRES

Hot weather and strong winds that are forecast will likely worsen the wildfires across the country

MAXIMUM AIR TEMPERATURE

Celsius, Jan. 2, 2020

25

30

35

40

45°C

Dots represent hotspots from the past 24 hours*

NORTHERN

TERRITORY

AUSTRALIA

QUEENSLAND

WESTERN

AUSTRALIA

SOUTH

AUSTRALIA

NEW SOUTH

WALES

Sydney

VICTORIA

Melbourne

0

450

KM

TASMANIA

*As of Jan. 3, 9:00 a.m.

THE SCALE OF AUSTRALIA’S WILDFIRES

Bushfires of unprecedented scale and duration have scorched more than 52,500 square km of land this season across the eastern Australian states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. The burned area across the three Australian states is almost the size of Nova Scotia (55,284 sq km)

AUSTRALIA’S WILDFIRES

Eastern states during the current bushfire season

OTHER FIRES FOR COMPARISON

FORT McMURRAY

FIRE OF 2016

5,895 sq km

VICTORIA

8,000 sq km

QUEENSLAND

2,500 sq km

BRAZIL

Whole of 2019

9,123 sq km

NEW SOUTH WALES

42,000 sq km

U.S.

Whole of 2019

18,729 sq km

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY;

NASA; REUTERS; STATISTICS CANADA

The smoke

Australia's major cities have been largely spared from direct contact with the fires, but choking smoke has enveloped Sydney, Melbourne and the capital of Canberra in recent weeks. Plumes of smoke that can be seen from orbit have crossed the Tasman Sea as far as New Zealand, about 2,000 kilometres away, or about the direct distance from Vancouver to Toronto.

Story continues below advertisement

Thick smoke blankets southeastern Australia on Jan. 2, as seen from space by NASA's Terra satellite and made available by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS).

NASA via AP

The ecological damage done

The fires have taken a horrific toll on Australia's distinct animal species, killing thousands of koalas, kangaroos and other wild creatures as well as cattle and other livestock. In New South Wales alone, as many as 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles may have died between September and the end of 2019, according to one projection from professor Chris Dickman at the University of Sydney. Fires on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, sometimes described as the Australian Galapagos due to its unique fauna, may have pushed some species to extinction and undone years of conservation work.

Koala Anwen recovers from burns at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital on Nov. 29.

Nathan Edwards/Getty Images

The human lives lost and displaced

At least 28 people have been confirmed killed by the fires, and tens of thousands have fled their homes to get away from burning areas. In the coastal town of Mallacoota, Victoria, evacuees surrounded by fire on all sides took shelter on the coasts with nowhere to go but into the sea, while navy vessels tried to get through the smoke to rescue them.

Amy Houghton and her son wear masks under a sky tinted red by the bushfires surrounding Mallacoota, Victoria, on Jan. 4.

@aims_elisha/via REUTERS


The emergency response so far

  • Firefighters: The fires have stretched state fire services to their limits, with volunteers working in dangerous conditions to get people and animals out of the way of blazes they were powerless to stop. More than 60 Canadian firefighters went down in December to help manage the crisis, repaying the favour from when Australians came north for past fire seasons in B.C. and Alberta.
  • Military: Three thousand army, navy and air force reservists were called up on Jan. 4 to combat the fires, though Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced criticism from rural fire service chiefs who said they found out about the deployment through media reports.
  • Emergency relief: Mr. Morrison has committed an extra A$2-billion ($1.8-billion) to the recovery effort, in addition to tens of millions already promised so far, and said the government would spend “whatever it takes” to rebuild. "If more is needed and the cost is higher, then more will be provided.”


Australia and the climate question

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Rohan Thomson/Getty Images

The fires, and the record-setting droughts that preceded them, have given new urgency to the climate crisis in Australia, where scientists warn that more intense and unpredictable dry conditions, worsened by human-caused climate change, could make bushfire seasons like this a regular threat. Mr. Morrison’s Liberal government, re-elected in a 2019 election where climate change was a wedge issue, has more intense public anger for policies critics say don’t do enough to reduce Australia’s greenhouse-gas emissions or upgrade infrastucture to combat future climate hazards. Mr. Morrison has defended himself from criticism that the Liberals’ climate plan is inadequate, that his response to the bushfires was too slow and that he took a family vacation in Hawaii when the fire crisis began.


What you can do to help

An Australian soldier carries an evacuee's dog in Omeo, Victoria, on Jan. 5.

Corporal Nicole Dorrett / Australian Department of Defence via Getty Images

Organizations collecting money for fire relief in Australia include:

  • Australian Red Cross: The international aid agency is organizing evacuation centres for thousands of Australians through its disaster relief fund.
  • Volunteer firefighters: Volunteer fire services in different states accept donations either directly (such as New South Wales) or through co-ordinating charities and government agencies (such as Victoria and South Australia).
  • Indigenous Australians: This GoFundMe campaign is collecting funds specifically for First Nations people who’ve had to evacuate their home territories.
  • Wildlife rescue: The RSPCA, the wildlife agency WIRES and the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital are collecting funds to shelter animals injured or displaced by the fires.


More coverage

Opinion: Mourning a disappearing world as Australia burns

In photos: Wildfires wreak havoc in Australia

Economy: Australian bush fires engulf southern wine region

Compiled by Globe staff

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