Australian Wildfires Leave a Trail of Devastation

Each year, Australia prepares for the bushfire season, which typically begins in early February or late January when temperatures throughout the country are at their highest. The fires this year began long before the expected time frame, with the first flames being recorded in September 2019. The fires ravaged on for months, spreading to levels so severe that by December, a state of emergency had been declared. Parts of Australia have been forced to evacuate, temperatures have reached an all-time high of 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and the death toll has risen to 16. With the effort of firefighters and nature’s natural course, the fires were finally extinguished by February 10, yet enormous damage had already been done. 

Over the span of 79 days, the fires are reported to have destroyed about 191,000 hectares of land. Although fire damage occurred in every Australian territory, the southeast coast of Australia, which contains the states of New South Wales and Victoria, was the most heavily affected region. 

Australia’s arid climate, severe heat, brisk winds, lightning occurrence and overall rising levels of CO2 within Earth’s atmosphere are all usual contributors to bushfire season; however, this year humans are suspected to have played a part in bushfire season, as well. At the time the flames ceased, 27 lives had been lost due to the fires, and 24 people had been arrested for intentionally setting fires.

 The fires have taken a toll on every area of life; from their impacts on the environment, economy, biodiversity and even the well-being of the Australian population. A skyrocketing calculation of 1 billion animals have died because of these fires, a drastic loss that will take decades to replenish. This sharp decline in biodiversity has caused a negative impact on the balance within ecosystems–ecosystems that assist global food production. This drop in food production, along with the loss of buildings, housing, businesses, and land used for agriculture and livestock, is weakening the economy each day. The intensity of damage and fatalities caused by the fires have even reportedly caused an increase in depression and anxiety levels within Australian citizens. Despite all of this, however, nothing was hurt as severely by the fires as the environment.  

Because of the intense smoke produced by these wildfires, Canberra, Australia has been deemed to possess the worst air quality of all major cities on the planet. Additionally, wildfire smoke has the potential to dirty water quality and be a catalyst for the bloom of harmful blue-green algae. Ash from the fires has even made its way across the ocean and turned glaciers in New Zealand brown, over 2000 kilometers away from Australia. Wildfires produce fine particulate matter, which threatens human health even from merely a single time exposure, and emit CO2, a greenhouse gas that warms the atmosphere which increases the likelihood of extreme weather patterns in the future. 

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