Forest fires raging across Australia, burned more than 12 million acres (nearly 5 million hectares) — an area roughly equal to the American States of Vermont and new Hampshire combined. Smoke from fires in the South-East of the country visible from space, and it spreads so far that it causes haze in New Zealand at a distance of over 1000 miles (1600 km), writes Time.
The fire season in Australia is still far from complete, and it has already become one of the most intense in the country’s history.
“The intensity, scale, number, geographic range, the fact that fires occur at the same time, and the kinds of environment which burn, all this together is extraordinary,” said David Bowman, a Professor of pyrogeography and science of fire and the Director of the Research center Fire Center at the University of Tasmania.
“We are in the midst of a military situation… the mass evacuations, the participation of the military, extremely emaciated the campaign with fire, it’s hard to explain”, he added.
As a result of forest fires have killed at least 19 people, dozens of people were missing. Hundreds of homes were destroyed. Military deployed ships and aircraft to deliver supplies to towns affected by the fires, and to evacuate residents who were cut off by fire from safe areas.
It is expected that the situation will worsen.
Here’s what you need to know about the crisis that is unfolding in Australia.
How extensive is the fire?
According to the Associated Press, across Australia burned about 12,35 million acres (nearly 5 million hectares). For comparison, forest fires in California in 2018, which, according to the California Department of forestry and fire protection, was “the deadliest and most destructive forest fire season in history” in the state, burned area less than 2 million acres (809 thousand hectares).
The risk of forest fire is currently the highest in New South Wales and Victoria, the most populous States, during the Australian summer, which lasts from December to February, but a state of emergency has already been declared in New South Wales in mid-November due to the fire season. In South Australia and Tasmania fire season continues until autumn.
Owen Pryce, associate Professor, Centre of environmental risk management during forest fire at the University of Wollongong, told the newspaper that about 30% of the forest in New South Wales was burned, but this percentage may increase to 50% next weekend.
What’s going on?
As of Friday, in Australia, there were at least 200 active fires. Just this week it was confirmed 10 deaths in Victoria and New South Wales. The Prime Minister of Victoria Daniel Andrews has declared a state disaster for several areas, the authorities call for the evacuation of large areas of the state. Andrews in his Twitter reported that 28 residents of the state have gone missing.
In the resort town Mallacoota, where at the beginning of this week, about 4,000 residents were forced to flee to the coast due to the spread of fire, evacuation assistance have a military. Defense Minister of Australia tweeted a photograph of evacuees Mallacoota.
In New South Wales, where Sydney is located, firefighters are fighting more than 130 fires, according to fire service staff. According to her, the state had destroyed more than 1,300 homes. The state government this week announced the third state of emergency since mid-November. A seven-day state of emergency began on Friday morning, January 3.
Meteorological office, Victoria posted pictures foggy sky and said that the visibility at the airport in Albury, on the border of New South Wales and Victoria, is only about 1 600 feet (less than 500 meters).
The map showed “very harmful” and “hazardous” level of air quality in some parts of New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian capital territory.
According to the Australian Bureau of meteorology, haze from the fires had an impact on such remote places as New Zealand. Image obtained by NASA captured a large part of the smoke from the fires stretching across the Tasman sea.
Fires will get worse
Despite the fact that in Australia this week is cold, it is expected that warmer weather will exacerbate the crisis in the weekend. Meteorological office, Victoria predicted ratings are “serious” and “extreme” fire danger for several parts of the state due to high temperatures and changes in wind.
Bauman, a researcher from Tasmania, said that the scale of the blazing fires, that means that when air is heated, the fire quickly intensified.
“Every time you determine the weather, ushering in the next 24 hours, the fires just explode again, there are more large fires, new fires, new fire fronts and the new lightning… it’s ratchet,” — said the expert.
“Here in Tasmania, can flare up the entire East coast. Around Melbourne there is a large piece of forest, high forest… in the South-West of Australia is still much that can burn,” said Bowman.
“The door is open, and we don’t know how it would end, — the expert added. — Much of Australian vegetation is extremely flammable, the fire is a lot of work, he has the ability to continue to burn, he didn’t run out of fuel”.
What is the role of climate change?
Experts say that climate change contributes to the historically intense fire season.
“Climate change increases wildfires, says Leslie Hughes, Professor of biology at Macquarie University and Advisor on climate in the Australian climate Council. Has this influenced the continued decrease in precipitation and, consequently, the effects of the current drought that we are experiencing, particularly in South-Eastern Australia”.
Hughes adds that climate change can also be the cause of more frequent and severe extreme heat in the country. According to the Australian Bureau of meteorology, 2019 was the hottest in the entire history of observations: the temperature reached approximately 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above the long term average.
“If you have a combination of very hot, dry days, high winds and very dry fuel, if you get spark, you have a ready environment for a very serious forest fire,” says Hughes.
Photo: a video frame YouTube/Washington Post
Despite the crisis, the Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison argues that there is no direct connection between greenhouse gas emissions in Australia and the seriousness of the fires burning across the country. He, however, acknowledged that climate change may affect forest fires and the duration of the season According to Climate Analytics, a protection group that monitors climate data in Australia is one of the world’s highest carbon emissions per capita.
Hughes says the government’s position in respect of climate change undermines its ability to respond to the crisis.
“If you do not accept the science — which is at least 30 years suggests that for such conditions we need to prepare for and mitigate them — you will find yourself in a disaster like this, totally unprepared”, she added.
The Prime Minister of Australia was faced with a negative reaction to the crisis, both because of his reluctance to associate the emissions from Australian forest fires and because of his reaction to the fires. The protests erupted in the office of Morrison in December, when some demonstrators demanded action against climate change, while others criticized Morrison for the fact that he took a vacation to Hawaii during the fire crisis. The Prime Minister interrupted a family vacation and apologized for the trip.
Alex Oliver, Director of research at the Sydney think tank Lowy Institute, said that the government’s position Morrison in relation to climate change angered some Australians who think climate change is a serious problem and want the government to take more decisive action.
On the morning of 4 January, Morrison announced the cancellation of an economical visit to India to head the Commission on national security. Two days before that he faced furious residents ravaged by a forest fire in the city that cursed him and insulted during a visit to their settlement. Some residents refused to shake his hand, others made obscene gestures and called him “an idiot” and worse.
Sarah Maddison, Professor of politics at the University of Melbourne, said that Morrison’s reaction to the situation was “extremely incorrect”.
“He seems determined to minimize the magnitude and impact of these fires, insisting that it is a natural disaster that Australia is all the time,” she says.
Maddison said that forest fires in the past was often used by the leaders of Australia to receive political support.
“They wear their akubras (Australian hats) and headed to the front, I Express my condolences and talk about… your management problem,” she says.
For Morrison, the fires, it seems, had the opposite effect.
“He seems to be so bustling and full of determination to avoid talking about climate policy that can not offer anything like real sympathy or compassion,” said Maddison.