AUSTRALIAN BUSH FIRES: WHAT'S HAPPENING & HOW YOU CAN HELP
It's happening again. In fact, it's always happening, all across the world. But only occasionally does it make international news. The fires in the Amazon are still burning, the fires across Africa are still burning, deforestation in Indonesia is crippling, and now bushfires are raging through Australia, leaving devastation and destruction in its tracks.
People have been evacuated whilst thousands of homes and farms have been destroyed, wildlife have perished and woodland has been scorched. Plumes are so large that they are generating their own weather as shrouds of thick, choking smoke mask cities. The citizens are exhausted and at a loss at how to manage the chaos as volunteer firefighters do their best to secure families and get the threatened inhabitants out of the way.
Here is what we know so far...
AUSTRALIA'S BUSHFIRES AT A GLANCE
In Australia there are between 52,000 and 54,000 bushfires every year across the country. Of those, 13% are deliberately started whilst 37% are considered to be arson or suspected arson. These figures don't take into consideration those caused by recklessness such as a BBQ or cigarette accidentally sparking one.
Fires that are set due to bushfire management are important for regenerating land and ensuring ongoing health in the native ecosystems. Though they have always posed a threat, the indigenous people have been using this practice for thousands of years in order to evolve the flora as a means of reproduction.
Fire has been used by the indigenous to clear grasslands for the purposes of hunting or to form tracks in dense vegetation. Though the indigenous did this only during high rainfall and in small grassland areas bordering the desert - they were controlled and deemed necessary. The fires that rage through Australia as you read this, were not.
Nowadays, bushfires are used all over the world in order to create vast space that can be used for agricultural purposes - the farming of animals and crop growing. Though as the fires burn, the earth that is left is often not nutritional enough to produce good quality crops anyway. (Read our article about the Amazon fires here)
Infernos can also be caused by lightning strikes, lack of rain and low soil moisture, paired with fierce winds and soaring temperatures. With these factors all to consider, the period of time that would usually be used to assist critical hazard reduction fires has decreased rapidly - giving us less time to prepare for chaos.
The 2019 bushfire season had actually been predicted to be a high risk and despite efforts made by Australian firefighting chiefs to meet with Prime Minister Scott Morrison to discuss the crisis, they were refused the time.
"Bushfires release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The gas, which makes up only a small percentage of the total gases in the atmosphere, is exceptionally good at trapping heat. In just three months, Australia's fires are estimated to have released 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Experts warn a century or more will be needed to absorb the carbon dioxide released." - CNET
WHAT'S happening NOW?
The uncontrolled fires began in September and have caused a national crisis across Australia, though New South Wales is the most heavily affected area. Experts predict that the blaze could continue until March-April when the rainfall picks up.
The fires have burned over 14.5 million acres of land and scientists have estimated that almost half a billion native wildlife have lost their lives in the three month blaze.
25 human lives have been lost so far, with more injured and homeless. Figures from NSW RFS say that 2,079 homes have been destroyed this season. The RFS said that, at 6am, there were still 147 bush and grass fires burning across NSW, 65 of which are yet to be contained, as of 11th January.
According to the New York Times, more than one third of Australians have been affected by the fires and are now looking to their denying government to take action on climate change.
New South Wales are in a state of emergency whilst Victoria is in a state of disaster, yet Australia's leaders have taken the defense of the fossil fuel industry (an important donor to both large political parties). "While the fires were exploding in mid-December, the leader of the opposition Labor Party went on a tour of coal mining communities expressing his unequivocal support for coal exports. The prime minister, the conservative Scott Morrison, went on vacation to Hawaii."
If the AQI - which is the air quality index reading - goes above 200, the air is considered to be hazardous. On New Year's Day, Canberra registered at 4,650! For comparison, Delhi and Kolkata are have some of the poorest quality air in the world, and theirs read in the 400's.
Many species have been affected by the blaze, including native echidnas, kangaroos, wallabies, possums, wombats and the most affected; koalas. Around 30% of one of the northeast colony's has been wiped out.
"A greenhouse gas cannot start a fire on its own. Bushfires aren't started by climate change, but they are exacerbated by the effects of global warming... The link between bushfires and climate change has become a political football, but experts agree climate change explains the unprecedented nature of the current crisis." - CNET
According to the New York Times, flames are leaping 200 feet and causing 'fire tornadoes'. On New Year's Day, Canberra had the most polluted air in the world due to a passing plume of smoke that was apparently as wide as Europe. The area that the fires have spanned would look like this in the UK:
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
Australia is the largest exporter of coal and gas in the world and has recently ranked 57th out of 57 countries on their action towards fighting the climate crisis. So who is to blame? Well, we turn to the Australian government. Forced to return from his vacation in Hawaii, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of the Liberal Party, publicly apologised for his lack of attendance during the Christmas period but has continued to deny Australia's state and the role it plays in the global climate crisis.
Morrison is trying to ensure that the fires are presented as a usual occurrence - something that the country is 'used to by now'. Media sources claim that he believes his position in power is safe as long as he refuses to acknowledge the severity of the catastrophic situation; “This is not the time to talk about Climate Change. We have to grow our economy”.
"Mr. Morrison made his name as immigration minister, perfecting the cruelty of a policy that interns refugees in hellish Pacific-island camps, and seems indifferent to human suffering. Now his government has taken a disturbing authoritarian turn, cracking down on unions, civic organizations and journalists. Under legislation pending in Tasmania, and expected to be copied across Australia, environmental protesters now face up to 21 years in jail for demonstrating." - New York Times
THE HEROES THAT ARE HELPING
Rain finally began to fall in some of the affected woodland regions last week, as firefighters who have spent weeks at war with the bush fires have been filmed singing and dancing as the rain helps them to gain control some of the burning fires. It's not great news, but it is a small blessing.
The majority of these fires are being fought by volunteer firefighting services such as the New South Wales Rural Fire Service which has around 70,000 members. Many of these heroes are unpaid and are risking their lives in order to help Australia and all its inhabitants stay as safe as possible.
The BBC has reported that around 3,500 firefighters are on the ground battling the fires everyday. Other countries such as America, New Zealand and Canada have all flown in fire experts and fighters for additional much needed help! Thank you so much to those brave souls!
Bindi Irwin, the daughter of late environmentalist and TV star the 'Crocodile Hunter', Steve Irwin, has revealed that their Australian Zoo Wildlife Hospital has treated over 90,000 animals since the fires began and are determined to open their doors to any creatures that need their aid.
On New Year's Day, Aussie Photographer Rose Fletcher captured the below image of the sky at Victor Harbour as the sun rose in the face of the burning fires. This apocalyptic sky bore a haunting resemblance to the Australian Aboriginal Flag, and many believe it is a symbol of Australia's ancestry - the indigenous who protect the land. Sadly, the current government have ignored the teachings of their great countries past.
Mogo Zoo's director Chad Staples and other staff members managed to save all 200 of it's animal inhabitats safe from the blaze, as they stayed behind to put out spot fires and transfer creatures into safe enclosures. Staples reportedly even allowed a tiger into his home in order to protect it!
Australian comedian Celeste Barber managed to raise over $26 million through her Facebook fundraiser in just a week! She is donating to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service & Brigades. You can still donate here.
Patsy the border collie managed to round up a herd of sheep at her family's farm in Corryong, Victoria, and save them from the blaze on New Year's Eve as flames approached their home. Patsy moved the sheep into a safe paddock whilst her owner ran a tractor around that was loaded with water. What a good girl :D
YOU. If you have donated, ANYTHING from a $1 to $100, to sending blankets and food, YOU are a hero, we must act and do more than just send thoughts and prayers. Everyone has the ability to contribute SOMETHING.
HOW CAN I DIRECTLY HELP?
DONATE DONATE DONATE Here are some of the organisations and charities working with the front line defenders:
Australia's Red Cross Disaster relief and recovery fund helps support evacuation centres and recovery programs for the affected communities
The NSW Rural Fire Service has a donation page to support the firefighting efforts in New South Wales
The Country Fire Authority is the state of Victoria's rural firefighting service and you can donate directly here.
The Country Fire Service in South Australia also takes direct donations.
To help support firefighters in the state of Queensland, you can donate to the Rural Fire Brigades Association via their webpage.
The Salvation Army has a disaster appeal donations page set up to deliver support to local communities affected by the blazes.
The Victorian Bushfire Appeal is where state premier Daniel Andrews is suggesting to donate. The appeal directs money to communities in need, giving directly to those affected by the fires.
Foodbank is taking donations to help people in need during the crisis. You can donate at its website to the Victorian relief effort, which helps get relief for communities cut off from power and food.
Givit is a not-for-profit organisation that cares for those in need by letting you donate goods it then passes on. It accepts items or money at its donation page.
The RSPCA bushfire appeal is used to protect the pets, livestock and wildlife affected by bushfires, helping evacuate animals from disaster zones. Items like livestock pellets and possum boxes are also incredibly handy.
SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Once you've donated, please please share! Tell the world what you have done in the hope that more will donate to the cause. We all need to act fast and the quickest way for each individual to get involved is to use their voices and virtual platforms to share information and links to these donation pages.
START A FUNDRAISER
Host a bake sale, create a GO FUND ME page, sell some art or photography... use your talents and skills to rally the troops in order to raise funds and spread awareness!
PURCHASE AND DONATE TO HOUS OF HALCYON'S BUSHFIRE APPEAL
So I have been working on a little print that I have made into postcards featuring Australia's native koala sat huddled beneath a blazing tree. As usual, $1 from each card sold will be gifted to ONE TREE PLANTED so that a tree can be planted for every paper purchase made. In addition, the rest of the profit will be donated directly to Australia's Red Cross Disaster relief and recovery fund, which helps support evacuation centres and recovery programs for the affected communities.
To purchase a KOALA BUSHFIRE print please CLICK HERE or contact me directly through my Instagram @housofhalcyon if you live locally and wish to collect in person.
Thank you always for the immense support. Now is the time to show how much you care x