Australia is on Fire: What is Happening and How to Help

The new decade is off to a, let’s just say a rocky start. On the environmental side of things, the news has been dominated by massive bushfires in Australia. We’ve all seen the apocalyptic photos of raging fires, the sky turning red from the heat, and burnt wilderness. So why are these fires happening, what is being done about them, and most importantly what can we do to help?

Every summer in Australia is bushfire season. Running from December to February, the hot and dry weather creates a perfect environment for fires to rage across the land. But this year, fueled by record high temperatures thanks to climate change, the fires are much larger and more intense than normal. With the fires in New South Wales alone burning more than five times the amount of land as last year’s Amazon fires, the Australian bushfire season has so far burned about twelve million acres, destroyed 1,400 homes, and killed around twenty-five people. Some of the fires are so big that they’re creating their own weather patterns, and Canberra Australia got temporarily ranked as having the worst air quality of any city in the world due to smoke and ash. But easily one of the most staggering estimates about the fires is that around 800 million animals were likely killed so far, including one third of the wild koala population. These fires came months early this year, with the first fires happening in September, cutting preparation time dramatically short. With two more months left of dry season, the level of devastation is only going to get worse.

The Australian government’s poor response to the fires is rapidly becoming almost as big of a story as the fires themselves, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison being called a modern day Nero. Scott Morrison is a recently elected Liberal (center-right) politician known for his love of rugby, McDonalds, and the coal industry who has continually downplayed the urgency of climate change actions. Over the holidays, when the fires hit a particularly intense period, Morrison was caught taking a secret vacation to Hawaii. He cut his vacation short by just one day, and only after the death of two firefighters as well as intense media criticism. He then released a facebook video on the Australian government’s fire response that’s been widely criticized for being more of an advertisement for his party than a communication about the fires, complete with upbeat corporate music and a donate button that led to the Liberal party’s campaign page rather than a firefighting organization. Recently he met with firefighters and people displaced by the fire who refused to shake his hand (although he just grabbed their hands anyway), heckled him, and demanded more action on the fires. 

The Australian people and wildlife need help. The first and easiest way to help is to spread awareness about the issue. As climate change continues to make natural disasters around the world worse, global apathy and disaster fatigue has been starting to set in. This cannot be allowed, and so clear demands for action need to be heard around the world. Other ways you can help include:

For Australians

  • Offer free housing to displaced people through AirBnB disaster relief page
  • Leave water bowls out for wildlife, especially shallow ones so that small animals don’t get trapped in them.
  • Create “animal ladders” out of rope or rocks in your pools to make sure animals jumping in the pool can get out, and check the pool twice a day
  • Keep all pets indoors or tightly controlled as heat exhausted animals are especially vulnerable to attacks
  • Do not attempt to feed wildlife 
  • If you encounter an injured animal, wrap it loosely in a cotton cloth, gently place it in a well ventilated lidded container, and either take it to a vet or leave it in a dark, quiet place, as you wait for a rescuer to come to you.
  • Do not attempt to help dangerous animals such as snakes, large mammals, and flying foxes. Call WIRES or another animal rescue organization for help instead.

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