Before the fires first broke out last September, Australia was already in the midst of both the driest and the hottest year on record, which meant we were also enduring a record-breaking heat wave.
Every state and territory in the country have had to deal with their own fires, but the southeast coastal regions of Victoria and New South Wales have been the most severely affected areas this season. Now 4 months later, the devastating bushfire season is still not over. So far, they have killed at least 25 people, destroyed over 2,000 homes, and caused the decimation of over 16 million acres of Australia.
While it’s difficult to fathom how this destruction of bushland has impacted Australia’s biodiversity, scientists fear that many sensitive ecosystems will sustain long-term damage, with conservative estimates of around 1 billion wild and domesticated animals that have lost their lives.
Fires Generated Massive Quantities Of Smoke
Where there’s fire, there’s going to be smoke, which is a health hazard on its own. An irritating pollutant, smoke from bushfires is well-known to exacerbate a wide range of illnesses, from respiratory issues to problems with the heart. But because these fires are so large, the sheer volume and thickness of smoke emitted is truly difficult to overstate.
Alarming scientists and firefighters alike, the size and intensity of some of these bushfires allowed them to actually create their own weather systems. The smoke produced pyro-cumulonimbus clouds which trapped in the heat, while also generating some strong winds as well as lightning strikes, which in turn actually created new fires.
The smoke was so thick that it caused the daytime skies of Mallacoota to change into an eerie, dark red shade of blood, while it also caused the air that blanketed Sydney to feel like breathing in the equivalent of 37 cigarettes. There is so much smoke from these bushfires that reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States indicate that winds have already started the smoke’s circumnavigation process of the planet as it arrives in South America.
Experts Predict Longer & More Dangerous Fire Seasons Ahead
Naturally an important part of Australia’s ecosystem, regular bushfires are necessary for many plants and other organisms to germinate, clear decay, and cycle nutrients.
According to the 2018 report titled State of the Climate by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, warmer averages of temperature have increased rain in the country’s far north. Unfortunately, it has also reduced the amount of rain in the southeast, which is both where the majority of Aussie’s live, and where most intense and destructive fires have been burning.
The deadly combination of dry weather and rising heat meant that vegetation like trees and grass was ultimately transformed into tinder, which helped ignite areas that are densely populated. The hotter than usual year-round climates drastically increase the likelihood of large and dangerous bushfires that are difficult to control, contain, and extinguish.
While working out the cause for all of these fires is going to take some time, the experts do know that some were caused by human actions, others were sparked by lightning, and arson has been listed as the cause of far too many. It’s also important to remember that Australia’s climate conditions can provide an ample amount of tinder fuel that cause these fires to spread in size and grow in intensity, which means they are much harder to extinguish.