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Australian Bushfires

Topics Covered: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Australian Bushfires

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Forest fires- reasons, impact and preparedness.

Context: Australia was recently ravaged by the worst wildfires seen in decades, with large swaths of the country devastated since the fire season began.

All this has been exacerbated by persistent heat and drought, and many point to climate change as a factor making natural disasters go from bad to worse.

Regions affected:

There have been fires in every Australian state, but New South Wales has been hardest hit.

Blazes have torn through bushland, wooded areas, and national parks like the Blue Mountains.

Some of Australia’s largest cities have also been affected, including Melbourne and Sydney — where fires have damaged homes in the outer suburbs and thick plumes of smoke have blanketed the urban center.

What is causing the fires?

Each year there is a fire season during the Australian summer, with hot, dry weather making it easy for blazes to start and spread.

Natural causes are to blame most of the time, like lightning strikes in drought-affected forests.

Dry lightning was responsible for starting a number of fires in Victoria’s East Gippsland region.

Humans can also be to blame. NSW police have charged at least 24 people with deliberately starting bushfires.

Challenges that Australia is facing:

Australia is experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades- last spring was the driest on record.

Meanwhile, a heatwave in December broke the record for highest nationwide average temperature, with some places sweltering under temperatures well above 40 degrees Celsius (about 113-120 degrees Fahrenheit).

Strong winds have also made the fires and smoke spread more rapidly.

Experts say climate change has worsened the scope and impact of natural disasters like fires and floods — weather conditions are growing more extreme, and for years, the fires have been starting earlier in the season and spreading with greater intensity.

What has been the damage so far?

  • Entire towns have been engulfed in flames, and residents across several states have lost their homes.
  • The heaviest structural damage occurred in NSW, the country’s most populated state, where 1,588 homes have been destroyed and over 650 damaged.
  • In total, more than 7.3 million hectares (17.9 million acres) have been burned across Australia’s six states — an area larger than the countries of Belgium and Denmark combined.
  • The worst-affected state is NSW, with more than 4.9 million hectares (12.1 million acres) burned.
  • Number of total animals affected could be as high as one billion nationwide. Almost a third of koalas in NSW may have been killed in the fires, and a third of their habitat has been destroyed.

When will the fires end?

Unfortunately, Australia is only about halfway through its summer season. Normally, temperatures peak in January and February, meaning the country could be months away from finding relief.

The fires are unlikely to end entirely since they are an annually occurring event — and may even get worse if recent years are a guide.

Sources: Indian Express.