Severe drought, record heat, and strong winds are fueling deadly blazes across Australia, with no end in sight. The smoke from the raging bushfires has bathed many major cities in an eerie orange glow and created apocalyptic scenes of destruction across the continent.
The fires have already torched 13.5 million acres, an area larger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Since September, the bushfires have destroyed more than 900 homes, decimated small towns, and killed more than 480 million animals and at least 17 people. The smoke from the fires made breathing the air in cities like Sydney as bad as smoking 37 cigarettes.
Australia’s military was deployed this week to rescue thousands of people in coastal vacation towns trapped by fast-moving flames. Forecasters warn that the flames could spread even further this weekend as more high temperatures and fast winds sweep the country. (At the bottom of this story, find links on how you can help Australia.)
The hellish conditions stem from some unusual weather patterns that converged to bring extreme heat and dry weather across Australia in recent weeks. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has now reported that 2019 was Australia’s hottest and driest year on record.
But climate change is also a major factor, exacerbating heat, drought, and fire risk. Australia has warmed by more than 1 degree Celsius since 1910. And while the northern part of the country is getting more rain, the southeast, including its most populated state, New South Wales, is getting drier, heightening the risk of fires there.
Apocalyptic scenes from Australia are surfacing on social media from photojournalists and locals on the ground. They reveal red skies, raging flames, distraught evacuees, and lonely animals. Here’s what they’re seeing so far:
How you can help people impacted by bushfires in Australia: