Authorities Say Australia Wildfires That Already Claimed 25 Lives Will Continue to Burn For Months
Australia Wildfires that have burned millions of acres of land and brought historic levels of destruction also claimed 25 Lives. Australia’s government is offering new help to people who have lost their homes and others affected by bushfires.
Although conditions improved slightly over the weekend, dangerously hot and windy conditions forecasted to likely return later this week.
Monday morning in New South Wales, 69 fires remained uncontained, according to fire officials, with a total of 136 fires in the state. At least 19 deaths have been reported in New South Wales. Several other fatalities also reported in both Victoria and South Australia.
The bushfires have exacted a staggering environmental toll, and the fires will take months to come to a stop, officials say.
The number of cattle and sheep killed is still being tallied, but the losses are expected to be enormous,
NPR’s Jason Beaubien reports. “And the death toll among wild animals is even worse. An ecologist at Sydney University estimates that nearly half a billion animals perished in the state of New South Wales alone.”
Kangaroo Valley, a forested area south of Sydney, has long been a camping and kayaking destination. Now it stands covered in gray ash, with charred tree trunks to be the only sign of vegetation, Beaubien reports from the spot.
The smoke has made the air look yellowish-orange in the broad swath of Australia’s southeast, and the smoke even reached New Zealand.
On Monday, the residents in Melbourne, which is more than 100 miles away from the nearest fires, and quite far away from the worst blazes, witnessed their city blanketed in smoke with a fog-like haze that worsened as the day went on.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new $1.4 billion bushfire recovery fund on Monday to help residents, businesses, and farmers rebound from their devastating losses. That’s in addition to other aid sources that cost enormous for fighting the fires.
“Whatever it takes, and whatever it costs, we will ensure Australians get the support they need to rebuild and recover from these bushfires,” Morrison said.
Morrison’s handling of the fires has been sharply criticized that he hasn’t done enough to help state officials to anger over his recent trip to Hawaii for vacation.
While the Australian Open is set to begin in Melbourne on Jan. 20, the fires have raged. Other high-profile tournaments are taking place in cities like Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide, whose areas have also been touched by wildfires, in the run-up to that Grand Slam event.
One international tourney has already been moved from Canberra to Bendigo because of the fires, Tennis Australia says. Tennis Australia and athletes have pledged for the donation of money for fire relief efforts.
The fire season is triggering a national crisis. Australia has called on its military for moving resources and carry people to a safe place out of danger. According to Australia’s Department of Defence, a C-27 cargo air force plane helped evacuate more than 170 people from Mallacoota, a town on the southeast coast, on Sunday.
In the town of Mogo, about 170 miles north of Mallacoota, artists tell Australia’s ABC that their home was among at least 60 properties destroyed over the weekend, ruining their work of years. The unfinished pottery that was in the house won’t need to go into a kiln as the fires were so intense.
“The fire actually finished off my work — and me,” Peter Williams tells ABC.
On Monday, under a state of alert, residents of Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory were told to avoid being outdoors for extended hours because of heavy smoke from blazes in nearby New South Wales and Victoria. The free respirator masks were distributed from territory to vulnerable Canberrans, including pregnant women and aged people of more than 65 years.
Residents have been displaying red ribbons on their fences to show their appreciation for the thousands of firefighters who are helping to save property and lives. Fire and rescue officials appreciate that gesture, but also urging people to display a particular sign on their mailbox if they have a plentiful supply of water on the premises like a pool that can be used to douse flames nearby.
In recent weeks, while a large portion of southeast Australia has already been under threat of fires, the people living on its northwest coast are facing a new peril – Cyclone Blake, the first cyclone of Australia’s tropical storm season that is expected to make landfall late Tuesday or early Wednesday as per the local time that could further strain national emergency authorities.
According to national forecasters, a Category 1 storm as of Monday, Blake could intensify into a Category 2 cyclone moving towards the south-southwest along the coast.