Australia is burning
Australia is burning
Record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought have fuelled a series of massive bushfires across Australia. Rain has brought some respite to the thousands of fire fighters and volunteers tackling the blazes, which have been burning since September 2019 up until Thursday, 9 January 2020. The fires intensified over the past week, with a number of towns evacuated. At least 24 people have so far been killed, including three volunteer fire fighters and more than 6,3 million hectares (63 000 km2 or 15,6 million acres) of bush, forest and parks have been burned. In the worst-hit state, New South Wales (NSW), fire has affected almost five million hectares, destroying more than 1 300 houses and forcing thousands to seek shelter elsewhere. A number of cities and rural areas in Victoria and South Australia have also felt severe effects from the bushfires. The total area burned across NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania is 8,4 million hectares. Hot, dry weather combined with prolonged drought and strong winds have created perfect conditions for fire to spread rapidly. The wildfires have so far scorched an area twice the size of the US state of Maryland, stretching across Australia’s southeast quadrant, its most densely populated. In New South Wales alone, the fires have killed nearly 500 million birds, reptiles and mammals, Sydney University ecologist Chris Dickman reported.
NSW Rural Fire Service said on Thursday, 9 January 2020, that their Building Impact Assessment teams continue making their way through fire affected areas, to assess the damage to properties. So far this season 1 870 homes have been destroyed and more than 22 000 buildings have been saved. Teams have assessed over 10 000 buildings since 1 January 2020, confirming the loss of 954 homes.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Saturday, 4 January 2020 that he would dispatch 3 000 army, navy and air force reservists to help battle the fires. He also committed 20 million Australian dollars ($14 million) to lease fire fighting aircraft from overseas. But the moves did little to tamp down the criticism that he had been slow to act, even as he has downplayed the need for his government to address climate change, which experts say played a key role in supercharging the blazes.
The international wildfire fighting community has responded positively to the crisis faced by Australia. Crews of fire fighters from the United States, fire experts and crews from Canada have already arrived in Australia while New Zealand, Singapore and Papua New Guinea have all offered military support while France offered operational assistance. The US' National Fire Fighting Coordination Centre has sent an additional 20 veteran fire fighters from California. There were 81 US fire fighters aiding Australian authorities at the end of last week, a situation report from the centre said. Melanie Morin, an information officer with the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, said there were 87 Canadians helping with the fires. Papua New Guinea offered a combined group of 1 000 soldiers and fire fighters to Australia.
South Africa’s Western Cape Province also offered their assistance, a team of experienced and trained fire fighters.
Australia also requested US Incident Management Teams (IMTs) to assist with the bushfires. The logistics and determination of which IMTs will go is being worked out now, with an estimated departure date around 16 January 2020. Based on requests from the Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, the US has intermittently deployed more than 159 wildland US Forest Service (USFS) and US Department of the Interior (DOI) fire personnel throughout December 2019 and early January 2020. The US fire fighters are filling critical wildfire and aviation management roles in New South Wales and Victoria.
Volunteer fire fighter killed in truck rollover
In a statement on 30 December 2019, the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said, “A volunteer fire fighter has died this evening near Jingellic. A further two fire fighters have suffered burns. The fire fighters were working on the Green Valley Fire, about 70km east of Albury. It’s believed that the truck rolled when hit by extreme winds.”
Two fire fighters killed, others injured
Two Rural Fire Service volunteers died when their fire truck rolled as they battled a bushfire south-west of Sydney late on Thursday night, 19 December2019. A further three RFS volunteer fire fighters were injured in the crash in Buxton just before 23h30, on a day of ferocious bushfire activity and searing heat across NSW. Earlier that day, three other fire fighters suffered burns in the Green Wattle Creek Fire when their crew of five fire fighters was overrun by flames near Bargo, south-west of Sydney. Two male fire fighters, aged 36 and 56, were flown to hospital where they were intubated after suffering burns to their faces, airways and bodies. A third person, a 28-year-old woman from the same crew, was taken by road ambulance to hospital suffering minor burns and smoke inhalation. "This particular crew, a crew of five, were overrun by fire. Enveloped by fire," RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
Fire fighting helicopter crashes into dam
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority confirmed a Bell UH-1H aircraft conducting fire fighting operations hit the water at Ben Boyd Reservoir, near Eden at 16h00 on Thursday, 9 January 2020. The pilot was the sole occupant and no injuries were reported. The pilot was able to free himself from the helicopter and had safely reached the shore.
New South Wales
About 130 fires were burning across the state on Monday, 6 January 2020, in the bush, mountain forests and national parks. The fires have been exacerbated by 40 degrees Celsius temperatures and strong winds, creating difficult conditions for the thousands of fire fighters deployed in the field. The small town of Balmoral, south-west of Sydney, was largely destroyed and scores of homes were razed amid catastrophic conditions on 22 December 2019. But by the start of January, conditions were still dangerous and a state of emergency for NSW has come into force. Parks, trails and camping grounds were closed and holidaymakers were told to leave a 260km (160-mile) stretch of NSW coast. The rainfall on Monday, 6 January 2020 meant some residents were able to return to their homes and supplies could be taken to affected areas. But officials warn that high temperatures and the risk of further fires, could return.
Other states are also suffering. In Victoria, more than 800 000 hectares have been burned. Fires, raging since late November, have caused devastation in recent days, leaving two people dead and destroying around 43 homes in East Gippsland. In the small town of Mallacoota, residents fled to the beach on 31 December 2019, with only a change in the wind direction keeping the fire from reaching them on the shore. Around 1 000 tourists and residents were eventually evacuated by the Australian navy and taken further down the coast. The military has sent troops, ships and aircraft to the region to help relocation and fire fighting efforts. A state of disaster has been declared for the worst-hit areas in Victoria, which allows the authorities to enforce evacuations and let emergency services take over properties.
In the state of South Australia, the Cudlee Creek fire is reported to have destroyed more than 80 homes in the Adelaide Hills region. The fires are also thought to have destroyed up to a third of the vines that provide grapes for the Adelaide Hills wine industry. In the Australian capital Canberra, an administrative region surrounded by NSW, bushfire smoke meant air quality there was rated the third worst of all major global cities on Friday, 3 January 2020, according to Swiss-based group AirVisual. Although Australia has always had bushfires, this season has been a lot worse than normal. The total area of land affected by fires in New South Wales would cover most of the south of England.
Here's how you can help Australia's bushfire victims
There are many organisations, charities and people coordinating donations to victims. Here’s how you can help.
The Red Cross doesn't have a specific bushfire fundraiser but it's raising money through its Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund. The charity is calling for cash donations and it has raised more than $8 million since New Year's Eve. "We appreciate that everybody wants to help but donating money is a more direct way to provide cash grants to people who have lost their homes," a spokesman said. Donate here.
The NSW Rural Fire Service and Victoria's Country Fire Authority are running their own donations for those wanting to support the fire fighters. They are accepting cash donations only. Donate to the RFS here and the CFA here.
Victorian Bushfire Appeal
This appeal was launched by the Victorian government in coordination with the Bendigo Bank’s Community Enterprise Foundation and the Salvation Army. The Community Enterprise Foundation has already raised $2 million from the public, to which the Victorian government pledged an additional $2 million at the weekend. The government says 100 percent of all donations will go to communities in need, "covering the cost of everything from a grocery shop to replacing school uniforms". "The Appeal will also help address the most immediate priorities of communities, including the rescue and rehabilitation of local wildlife," the government said. Donate here.
St Vincent de Paul Society
During its bushfire appeal, Vinnies only accepts cash donations. The charity is currently running appeals for victims of bushfires and drought in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT. Donate here.
The Salvation Army are after cash donations and say the logistics of transporting, storing and distributing items in disaster-affected communities is often not practical. "Today at numerous locations we are feeding fire fighters and evacuees and answering the needs of communities devastated by bushfires and we do this with the support of so many Australians." Donate here.
Cash donations are preferable but the organisation is also accepting good-quality tinned food (with ring pull), UHT milk, and items that are easy to "grab and go" like muesli bars, cereals, biscuits and pantry staples. Do not donate clothes, razors, medicine, alcohol, clothes or bedding. Donate here.
The group has started a Victorian Bushfire Appeal where donations will be distributed to wildlife shelters and carers across the state affected by the fires. Donate here.
World Wildlife Fund
WWF Australia is raising money to help restore homes for the koalas when the fires have cleared. More than 2 000 koalas have perished in NSW alone. Donate here.
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
Staff at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital is treating about 30 koalas, which they spent weeks rescuing following devastating bushfires on the NSW Mid-North Coast. They are raising money to install animal drinking stations in burnt areas, and to set up a koala breeding programme. Donate here.
The New South Wales agency is accepting donations to its emergency fund to help rescue wildlife, including koalas and flying foxes, affected by drought and bushfires. Donate here.
Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund
GERF was set up in 1978 to help Gippsland locals recover from natural disaster. The charity is calling for cash donations. Donate here.