Here is the latest on Australia's bushfire crisis. More than 5000 grass and bushfires have destroyed more than 8.4 million hectares of land in NSW, Vic, Qld, SA, WA and Tas. At this stage, 23 people have lost their lives – including three firefighters whilst in their line of duty – and a further six people are missing.
The fires annihilated 1823 homes with extensive damage to a higher number of homes and properties (This number is likely to rise). “While each one of the properties destroyed is a tragedy for those impacted, more than 1200 homes in the direct area of these fires have been saved due to the hard work of firefighters, landholders and residents,” RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons shares in a press release.
Effects on Australian wildlife
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that a staggering 1.25 billion animals were directly impacted by the bushfires. Federal Environment Minister, Sussan Ley estimates that nearly a third of the koala population in NSW’s mid-north coast could have been killed in the fires as up to 30 percent of their habitat was destroyed; as well as gravely affecting the kangaroo population when the fires tore through a kangaroo sanctuary also in the area.
Half the population of koalas on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island are feared to have been killed in the fires; while the fires burned an immense area of quokka habitat with dire impact on the rare marsupial’s population within WA's Stirling Ranges.
Sadly the risk to wildlife will not end when the fires do. Wildlife that survive the fires are introduced to new areas that do not have the resources to support them. Professor Dickman from the University of Sydney and past President of the Australian Mammal Society and the Royal Zoological Society of NSW, explains that wildlife fall victim to introduced predators such as feral cats, dogs, dingoes, and foxes, and are rarely able to compete with animals already living in the area.
“I think there’s nothing quite to compare with the devastation that’s going on over such a large area so quickly. It’s a monstrous event in terms of geography and the number of individual animals affected.”
In WA, the fires ripped through more than 40,000 hectares of land, 1.2 million hectares in Victoria, and a shocking 4.9 million hectares in NSW alone, an increase from 3.54 million hectares lost in the NSW widespread grass fires of 1974-75 according to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.
Associate Professor Owen Price from the University of Wollongong says this season’s fires burned through a large amount of forest and rainforest rather than grasslands, making these fires harder to fight and control and proving to be dangerous to both people and wildlife.
“(Forest fires) are far more intense, they produce far more smoke, they burn far more material, so there is a bigger greenhouse gas output and they take longer to recover.” Price explains.
Hazard reduction is part of the national fire management process, and Commissioner Fitzsimmons confirmed in an interview with ABC News that the RFS have now achieved up to 90 percent of its annual burn program.
Australia is a land of bushfires which is just as much a part of the Australian landscape as the biodiversity that has adapted to it, but the mega fires we have been experiencing is not normal.
“It’s important to remember that this is no ordinary bushfire season and we can’t afford to have anyone think this is just another year” says Commissioner Fitzsimmons, “the crippling effects of the drought, unseasonably warm weather and strong winds have seen fires develop quickly and impacted on lives, farms, businesses, homes and communities.” Climate change does not cause bushfires, but it does make it worse.
For an update on the fires visit the website of the respective state firefighting authorities. To donate to victims of the fires visit redcross.org.au