posted on: Thursday January 16, 2020
Kyle Burgess ’21
With the start of the new decade, Australia continues to find itself under siege from a large swath of wildfires that continue to spread destruction across the country. The fires originally broke out in July of 2019, however the Australian government has struggled to contain the blazes despite outside assistance from American volunteers.
A total of 28 people have already died as a result of the fires and over 3,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged in the state of New South Wales (NSW) alone, making it the place that has been hit the hardest since the fires’ onset.
Many have cited extreme heat, dry-lightning, and climate change as causes for the flames that continue to envelop bushland, wooded areas, and national parks like the Blue Mountains. Additionally, NSW has charged 24 people for deliberately setting bushfires and another 183 for fire-related offenses since this past November.
It does not help that Australia is also simultaneously suffering from one of its worst droughts in history. A recent heatwave swept the country in December with some areas registering temperatures north of 104 degrees fahrenheit.
Per CNN, “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. Earlier in December, the smoke was so bad in Sydney that air quality measured 11 times the “hazardous” level. These fires come in all shapes and sizes, enveloping isolated buildings and neighborhoods, or entire country sides.
The worst wildfire incident on record in the country remains the 2009 Black Saturday Fires in Victoria in which 173 people were killed. However, with firefighters continuing to experience difficulty in battling the flames and drier conditions expected, further fatalities and destruction are not impossible.
To Reverend Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., these natural disasters have a personal significance. Reverend Miscamble is from Brisbane, and while his city and family have not been directly threatened by the fires, he recalled that they were on everyone’s minds while he was back home for the holidays. “The attention of all Australians was focused on the fires and the destruction they have caused. The current fires have now caused the deaths of around 30 people, including a number of the courageous firefighters battling these blazes. Additionally, there has been the loss of much livestock, wildlife, and property. Both Sydney and Melbourne (Australia’s two largest cities) have suffered from serious smoke haze.”
Despite the destruction, Reverend Miscamble cited the courage of those who chose to battle the flames. “In the midst of the tragedy of these fires what struck me most was the resilience of the Australians affected, as well as the determination of the firefighters, most of whom are volunteers, in their efforts. There was also appreciation for the international support, including firefighters coming from the U.S., to assist our local efforts.”
Aid has also poured in from Jeff Bezos who has pledged to donate $690,000 to combat the spread of the fires, as well as Brighton and Hove Albion FC starting goalkeeper Mat Ryan, who has vowed to donate $500 for every save made by a Barclay’s Premier League goalkeeper this past weekend. As the summer drags on in the Land Down Under, the Australian government will look to new strategies in quelling the flames before more magnified damage can be inflicted.