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Australia wildfires – unprecedented disaster shows no signs of stopping

Australia is being ravaged by the worst wildfires seen in decades, with large swathes of the country devastated since the fire season began late July.

In November, hundreds of fires broke out in New South Wales, Australia, and spread rapidly across the continent to become some of the most destructive on record. An area about twice the size of Belgium, roughly 15 million acres, has burned. At least 18 people are dead, and more are missing, including at least three volunteer firefighters.

The fires have destroyed more than 1,000 houses, hundreds more damaged. In the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, as blazes worsened, thousands of people forced to evacuate found shelter on beaches throughout New South Wales and Victoria. There are still more than 100 fires burning. All this has been exacerbated by persistent heat and drought, and many point to climate change as a factor making natural disasters go from bad to worse. 

Australia is experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades — the country’s Bureau of Meteorology said in December that last spring was the driest on record. Meanwhile, a heatwave in December broke the record for highest nationwide average temperature, with some places sweltering under temperatures well above 40 degrees Celsius (about 113-120 degrees Fahrenheit).

 

Australia swelters on its hottest day nationwide as wildfires rage — and temperatures are likely to rise even higher. Strong winds have also made the fires and smoke spread more rapidly, and have led to fatalities — a 28-year-old volunteer firefighter died in NSW in December after his truck rolled over in high winds.

Experts say climate change has worsened the scope and impact of natural disasters like fires and floods — weather conditions are growing more extreme, and for years, the fires have been starting earlier in the season and spreading with greater intensity.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been harshly criticized for his handling of the emergency, has announced the deployment of 3,000 reserve troops to help the fire-fighting effort. On Saturday he was condemned again for posting an advert on Twitter showing how the government was responding to the crisis, accompanied by an upbeat backing track.

 

 

We’re putting more Defence Force boots on the ground, more planes in the sky, more ships to sea, and more trucks to roll in to support the bushfire fighting effort and recovery as part of our co-ordinated response to these terrible fires.

 

When will the fires end?

Unfortunately, Australia is only just entering its summer season. Normally, temperatures peak in January and February, meaning the country could be months away from finding relief. The fires are unlikely to end entirely since they are an annually occurring event — and may even get worse if recent years are a guide.

By J. Costa

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