The Australian Bush Fires: What Caused Them, And How Can You Help?

Australia is currently experiencing one of the most devastating fires in the country’s history, as bush fires blaze in all six states across the continent. To date, over 14.7 million acres have burned — 8.9 million in New South Wales alone — whole populations have become displaced, and 24 people and millions of animals have died, putting the damage on track to eclipse that of the Amazon rainforest fires from late last year. State officials warn that things are likely to get worse before they get better, Australia is currently entering its first full month of the summer season and state and federal authorities are struggling to contain the massive fires as high winds and dry weather continue to fuel the various blazes.

The fires have torn through National Parks, wooded areas, bushlands, and remote parts of Australia, as well as had a huge impact on Australia’s major urban centers, like Sydney and Melbourne, where the sky is a hellish black and orange haze. CNN reports that the smoke in Sydney measured 11 times the hazardous level in December, with fires beginning as early as July when Australia’s fire season officially begins.

While wildfires in Australia are a fairly normal occurrence, what is currently taking place is unprecedented and a tragedy that will have a long-lasting impact on the people of Australia as well as tremendous damage to the ecosystem of one of the most unique and diverse wildlife environments we have left.

What Caused The Fires?

Like California, Australia has a robust fire season that has been growing increasingly devastating over the past few decades (climate change, population boom, etc.). Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology declared spring 2019 as Australia’s driest on record as the country continues to suffer a drought that began in 2017. The drought has affected Australia’s national parks and bushlands, which are drying out and in turn providing more of the type of fuel that causes wildfires to break out.

CNN reports that dry lightning was responsible for starting a number of fires in the East Gisspisland region of Victoria in late December, traveling 12.4 miles in five hours because of the dry and high wind conditions.

How Bad Is It?

In all honesty, it’s really f*cking bad. In New South Wales alone, 1,300 homes have been destroyed, 440 have been damaged, and the University of Sydney estimates that 480 million animals have been killed as a result of the fires since September — and again, that’s just New South Wales. According to CNN, the 14.7 million acres that have burned across Australia’s six states is the size of Belgium and Haiti combined, resulting in mass evacuations across the country.

Staggering statistics aside, we don’t even really need to look at the numbers to understand just how devastating and dire the situation across Australia is, we just need to turn to social media and the first-hand accounts of the people living this tragedy in real-time. This eerie clip from Twitter looks straight out of a post-apocalyptic disaster film as a person driving through New South Wales shares the fields of dead animals left in the wake of the fires.

“Where could they have gone these animals? There’s nowhere for them to go and now they’re just littered on the side of the road,” says the clip’s narrator as he scans the harrowing scene of thousands of dead animals toppled over one another. One Australian woman, speaking to ABC News, noted that the fires were different from the ones she routinely experienced, “The blackness the darkness, the intensity of it… it’s like an apocalypse it’s like nothing you’ve ever experience before.”

What Can You Do To Help?

As of now, New South Wales has declared a state of emergency that allows for additional government resources to be allocated to the state, and 2,300 firefighters are currently working in New South Wales with additional support from the United States, Canada, and New Zealand on the way.

But the best way you can help is by donating money to organizations on the ground. The Red Cross is currently accepting donations while they help thousands in evacuation centers, particularly reunifying people separated by the emergency, the St Vincent de Paul Society is taking donations to help provide support through food and bill payments to victims who had to be evacuated from their homes, and there is an active Go Fund Me to provide relief for First Nation Communities affected by the fires.

To help the firefighters on the ground donate to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, or any of the state fire services in Australia.

To help the wildlife affected by the fires check out WIRES, a wildlife rescue nonprofit; World Wildlife Fund Australia, which is focusing on koala conservation — one-third of the koala population in NSW has been killed by the fires; or the RSPCA New South Wales, which is helping to evacuate, rescue and treat wildlife in threatened areas.