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Australian fires: everything we know and how you can help



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Australia is on fire.


Saeed Khan / Getty

Australia faces an unprecedented national crisis, while forest fires tear through rural communities throughout the country. Since September, at least 20 people have died and more than 1

500 houses have been destroyed. Another 28 people are missing after forest fires tore through busy tourist centers in East Victoria at the turn of the year. The magnitude of the threat is huge and fires continue to burn, with authorities calling on people to evacuate their homes as the country prepares for another weekend of catastrophic danger.

Australians who are entangled in the crisis go to social media and beg for help. Entire cities flattened while fires twisted through bushland, over highways and mountain peaks. In New South Wales and Victoria, the country's most densely populated states, people tried to escape the fire and motorways were clogged with cars. In large cities, such as Sydney and Melbourne, a thick smoke has descended over busy urban areas such as a blanket . Some regions of the country have recorded air quality measurements 20 times above the hazardous level.

The situation is grim. Australians are exhausted and frustrated by a lack of clear leadership. Many have had to flee their homes. Because the fire conditions will get worse in the coming days, help is needed.

This is what we know about the ongoing fires and a number of ways you can provide assistance from Australia or far away.

What caused the fires?

This is a complex question. Australia is a continent that is familiar with forest fires, forest fire management and the importance of fires in regenerating the country. The indigenous population who have lived on the island continent for tens of thousands of years has known for a long time how important fire management is and how it contributes to the health of ecosystems. Forest fires are a well-understood threat, but the fires that are now burning across the country have been described as "unprecedented" in their cruelty and scale.

Fires can start in different ways – from carelessly discarded cigarettes to lightning and arson – but they are fed by a staggering amount of factors. A lack of rain and low soil moisture can help small fires grow, and in combination with the high temperatures and strong winds that Australia has experienced in recent months, these small fires can turn into enormous hell. In addition, as the burning season gets longer, the window to reduce critical burns has decreased, giving fires the chance to really survive.

The bushfire risk for the 2019 season was well known to Australian fire commanders, who had been trying to meet Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister, since April, are worried that a crisis would come, but they were constantly rejected.

A greenhouse gas cannot itself cause a fire. Forest fires did not start due to climate change, but they are exacerbated by the effects of global warming. The Climate Council, an independent community-funded climate organization, suggests that bushfire conditions are now more dangerous than in the past, with longer bushfire seasons, droughts, drier fuels and soils and record-breaking heat. The relationship between forest fires and climate change has become a political football but experts agree that climate change explains the unprecedented nature of the current crisis.

Australia in particular recorded the hottest year ever recorded in 2019, with 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than the average, according to a report from the Bureau of Meteorology. Rising temperatures increase the risk of bushfire and in November Sydney experienced a catastrophic fire hazard for the first time.

There is also a horrific feedback loop that occurs when large parts of the country are on fire, a fact that the world struggled with during the Amazon fires of 2019 . Forest fires release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The gas, which accounts for only a small percentage of the total gases in the atmosphere, is exceptionally good at absorbing heat. In just three months, the fires in Australia released an estimated 350 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Experts warn that a century or more will be needed to absorb the released carbon dioxide.


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Which areas are affected?

Fires rage in every state, with some of the largest blaze in NSW and Victoria. The fires in Gospers Mountains, in NSW, have burned more than half a million hectares and scientists suggest that this could be the largest single-point fire in Australia's history. The total burnt area is fast approaching 6 million hectares (almost 15 million hectares). That is almost seven times the amount of burnt area experienced by the Amazon in 2019 and about three times the amount burned in the California fires in 2018.

The Japanese weather satellite, Himawari, has captured some beautiful images from the space of the plumes of smoke that develop from the south coast of Australia. You can see the formation of huge pyrocumulus clouds, a kind of cloud of smoke that is often seen during forest fires that can generate its own problematic weather – including lightning storms.

The Guardian Australia has an excellent interactive map that you can use to understand the extreme size of the fires and the entire fire front, compared to other cities around the world.

The dust and ash from the fires have spread over the ocean and as far as the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand. On January 1, images of Franz Josef's snow-capped peaks appeared that colored a caramel brown. The distance between the glacier and the bushfire front is about the same as the distance from Boston to Miami.

When will they end?

Another complex question. Predictions suggest that they will extend to 2020. After all, Australia is only one month until the summer and dry, hot conditions continue to exist until March and April. The much-needed rain, which would help alleviate some of the uncontrolled fires, is expected to last for months.

Are koalas threatened with extinction?

An incorrect report in November 2019 stated that the koala, an Australian icon, was "functionally extinct" due to the forest fires that burned over NSW and Queensland. Experts do not believe this to be true but the species – and many other native Australian fauna – are threatened as a direct consequence of the uncontrolled flames.

University of Sydney ecologists estimate that up to 480 million animals may have died in the blaze, including up to 8,000 koalas. Sussan Ley, Australia's Environment Minister, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the actual extent of deaths cannot be fully understood until the fires have stopped burning and "a proper assessment can be made." What do politicians do?

The real-time crisis

Social media are flooded with poignant images of the fire front, showing communities on the beach while orange, dusty skies obscure the horizon. The Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House have disappeared several times over the past two months under a gray haze.

On December 31, a crew of NSW Fire and Rescue Station 509 was caught in their fire truck, south of the municipality of Nowra, while a fire front dropped on the vehicle. Images of the incident spread quickly over the web.

Some of the most scattered images came from Mallacoota, a small town in eastern Victoria that regularly encounters a huge amount of tourists during the Christmas holidays. On December 31, around 4,000 people were forced to the lake to prevent forest fires.

Residents and tourists from Mallacoota were evacuated on January 3 by two naval ships.

Incredible images of a magpie mimicking the sound of a fire truck. appeared on January 2.

In the Intelligencer of New York Magazine, climate reporter David Wallace-Wells writes that there is "global apathy" when responding to the bushfire crisis. The New York Times showed clogged highways and roads, cars & bumper to bumper, trying to escape the massacre. The Guardian spoke to residents who spoke in apocalyptic terms and mentioned the situation in which they found themselves in & # 39; Armageddon & # 39 ;. Prominent Australian reporter and broadcaster Hugh Riminton called Australia & # 39; a burning country led by cowards & # 39 ;.

On January 3, a fire occurred on Kangaroo Island, an important ecological safe haven off the coast of South Australia. Rains helped ease the burden of & # 39; night and the state fire brigade lowered the emergency hazard level early on January 4, after a quarter of the island was destroyed by the & # 39; unstoppable & # 39; fire. It is still burning out of control.

According to forecasts, Saturday January 4 expects weather conditions that will deteriorate rapidly & # 39; . "The combination of high temperatures, around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), low humidity and wind creates a dangerous mix of conditions that allow fire to hold on and spread quickly.

What about the political

A real sense of frustration has built up, from the Australian public, to the ruling right-wing liberal party and prime minister, Scott Morrison.When the bushfire crisis first began to crescendo, Morrison was on vacation in Hawaii, but under public repercussions and after the death of two volunteer firefighters, he stopped his journey by one day.

There have been allegations in the Australian press and through social media that somehow the Greens (a center left party) are somehow guilty of the size of the fires because they have prevented the reduction of danger reduction, and it has been demonstrated that this is demonstrably wrong.

On January 2, Morrison visited the city of Cobargo, destroyed by the fires, and greeted by evil residents who refused to shake his hand and watched him from the other side. They were angry – and they wanted to make their voice heard. A resident, seen in recordings made by 9News of Australia, said she would only shake Morrison & # 39; s hand if he was committed to the firefighting efforts. "We have completely forgotten here," one resident explains.

Twitter & # 39; s trending section has been consistently flooded with hashtags such as #AustraliaBurning, right next to #dismissthisprimeminister and #ScottyFromMarketing – a reference from the satirical Australian website The last time of the premier in marketing.

In the US, presidential hope peoples such as Bernie Sanders tweet about the fires, as does singer Bette Midler, who tweeted a few choice words for the Australian Prime Minister to her 1.8 million followers.

How you can help

A number of organizations and volunteer services help firefighting and repair work for affected communities. You can find a lot of useful links and information below:

  • Australia & # 39; s Red Cross aid and recovery fund helps support evacuation centers and recovery programs for affected communities
  • The NSW Rural Fire Service has a donation page to supporting fire fighting efforts in New South Wales
  • The Country Fire Authority is the state of Victoria's national fire fighting service and you can donate directly here.
  • The Country Fire Service in South Australia also accepts direct donations.
  • To support firefighters in the state of Queensland, you can donate to the Rural Fire Brigades Association through their webpage.
  • The Salvation Army has set up a disaster page to support local communities affected by the fire.
  • The Community Enterprise Foundation, a collaboration between the Salvation Army and Bendigo Bank, has a similar emergency personnel money to communities in need.
  • Raise awareness! You can tweet, share and post this story – and dozens of others – on the internet. More eyeballs = more help.
  • Foodbank makes donations to help people in need during the crisis. On its website you can donate to Victorian aid, which helps get help for communities that are cut off from power and food.
  • Givit is a non-profit organization that cares for people in need by letting you donate goods that it then passes on. It accepts items or money on its donation page.
  • The RSPCA bushfire call is used to protect pets, cattle and wildlife affected by forest fires and thus evacuate animals from disaster zones. Items such as cattle pellets and opossum boxes are also incredibly useful.
  • Airbnb has set up an emergency home site for those displaced by forest fires through the Open Homes initiative. You can book accommodation for free in certain parts of New South Wales and Victoria.
  • Similarly, Find A Bed founded by the Australian writer Erin Riley, allows people to sacrifice a bed or find a bed in NSW, Victoria and South Australia. It currently has 900 registered volunteers .
  • The St. Vincent de Paul society helps people on the ground with reconstruction, offers food and clothing and emotional support. It has a donation page here.
  • The World Wildlife Fund accepts donations to support nature conservation, in particular in connection with koalas. Money can help with emergency care during forest fires.
  • The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has already raised more than $ 2 million to help find and protect the koalas in the region. You can donate on the GoFundMe page.
  • Another GoFundMe page was set up as an aid fund for First Nations communities to "provide culturally sensitive, specific direct support to some of those communities with critical costs to cover costs." [19659060] Wires is a wildlife rescue organization in Australia with countless ways to help Australia's native fauna. Donations can be made via its website.
  • Actor and comedian Celeste Barber has fundraising for the Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service and Brigades donations fund. You can donate on the Facebook page of the fundraiser.
  • A useful source if you want to buy products from rural communities is Australia from The Bush. It highlights makers and artists from regional Australia that you can buy if they are confronted with drought and now bushfire.
  • Great mental health services are available for those who may need support or counseling in the crisis. Australians can chat online with Lifeline or call 13 11 14, and a similar service is offered by Beyond Blue ( 1300 22 46 36 )
  • Sign a petition from Change.org with a call on the NSW government to provide firefighters with adequate breathing equipment to protect against harmful smoke.
  • GenerOZity is a charity marathon event in Australia, including some of the country's largest content makers. Makers will be streaming live to raise money for the fires from January 16 and the charity has set up a fundraising with a $ 10,000 goal. fire brigade throughout the country. It is also together with content creation team Misfits on a merch drive with profit focused on the relief efforts.
  • The No Sign of Rain print by the famous Australian artist BossLogic can be purchased at the online store with 100% of the proceeds to the Red Cross.
  • The Make It Rain fundraiser offers unique online auction prices from famous Australian musicians. A concert will be held on 8 and 9 January in Byron Bay.
  • The Carlton Draft, a clothing store, works with former Australian rules footballer Daniel Gorringe to raise money through GoFundMe on behalf of the Red Cross. 100% of their profit (until January 7) goes to aid funds.
  • Perform your online searches through Ecosia, which uses the profit to plant trees where they are most needed. Trees help to reduce the carbon dioxide load. It can be added to Chrome.
  • If you want to contact elected officials in the US and make your voice heard about climate change, you can do so here. For Australians you can contact a member of parliament via this link.

Originally posted on December 2 and regularly updated.


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