To date, at least 24 people have lost their lives due to the fires. Just in the state of New South Wales (NSW) alone, more than 2,000 homes have either been damaged or completely destroyed. The major issue at play is the relentless heat that has combined with a historic drought to make conditions ripe for fires to rage.
Every state in Australia has been affected by the fires with NSW taking the brunt of the destruction. Even major cities such as Sydney and Melbourne have been in the path of the fires as homes have been destroyed along the suburban corridors and thick blankets of smoke hang over the cities, affecting millions of residents. In December, the smoke was so awful in Sydney that the authorities declared the air quality to be 11 times the standard hazardous level.
While some fires are small in scope, affecting only portions of neighborhoods, other blazes have evolved into massive infernos that have spread through acres of wooded areas and national parks. Officials say that more than 14.7 million acres have been destroyed to date, reaching all of Australia’s six states. NSW has lost almost 9 million acres alone.
According to ecologists from the University of Sydney, some fear that up to one billion wild animals have been lost as a result of the fires. Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley estimates that up to one-third of the koala population’s natural habitat may have burned in the fires.
The US, Canada, and New Zealand have all sent help to assist in battling the blazes. More than 2,000 firefighters are currently working in the hardest hit areas of NSW. Because Australia is just now entering its warmest summer months, the fires are not likely to die out on their own soon. Temperatures generally peak in January and February in this country located in the southern hemisphere.
There are a number of organizations that are accepting monetary donations from those people around the world who want to help. These aid organizations include the Australian Red Cross and the Salvation Army Australia. The Australian government has sent in an abundance of assistance through its army members, air force aircraft, and various navy battleships.