By Bill Dobbins
(Bloomberg) — Australia is in the grip of deadly wildfires burning across the country, triggering an emotive debate about the impact of climate change in the world’s driest inhabited continent. The unprecedented scale of the crisis, and images of terrified tourists sheltering on beaches from the infernos, has shocked many Australians.
With summer only just beginning and the nation affected by a prolonged drought, authorities fear the death toll will continue to mount as more homes and land are destroyed. Here are some key details of the crisis:
How many people have died?
Since the fire season began months ago during the southern hemisphere winter, at least 24 people have died. Among the fatalities are volunteer firefighters, including a young man who died when his 10-ton truck was flipped over in what officials have described as a “fire tornado.” Australia’s worst wildfires came in 2009 when the Black Saturday blazes left 180 people dead.
How big an area has burned?
Massive tracts of land have burned. More than 10 million hectares (25 million acres) have been destroyed — that’s about five times the size of Wales, or larger than Indiana. In New South Wales state alone, almost 5 million hectares of forest and bush has been destroyed, while more than 1.1 million hectares has been burned in Victoria. The fires are so large they are generating their own weather systems and causing dry lightning strikes that in turn ignite more. One blaze northwest of Sydney, the Gospers Mountain fire, has destroyed almost 512,000 hectares — about seven times the size of Singapore.
The scale of the blazes dwarfs the California wildfires in 2018, which destroyed about 1.7 million acres, and about 260,000 acres in 2019.
How many homes have been destroyed?
Some 1,400 homes have been destroyed in New South Wales alone this fire season and the tally is rising daily as the fires continue to burn and authorities assess the damage. Scores of rural towns have been impacted, including the community of Balmoral about 150 kilometers southwest of Sydney, which was largely destroyed before Christmas.
Deadly bush fires are burning across Australia, exacerbated by strong winds and a record-breaking heatwave as the country experienced one of its worst droughts in decades, notes CNN, which features a portfolio of news service photographs that capture the disaster.
Deadly bushfires are burning across Australia, exacerbated by strong winds and a record-breaking heatwave as the country experienced one of its worst droughts in decades.