MetroUK reports how at least 17 people have been left dead since wildfires started to rage through Australia in September. Thousands have had to evacuate to the coast for fear of the bushfires, and the military has been sent in to help as flames ravage the countryside in the worst bushfire season in the country’s history.
Victoria Emergency Commissioner Andrew Crisp told reporters: ‘We have three months of hot weather to come. We do have a dynamic and a dangerous fire situation across the state.’ With a week-long state of emergency having been declared in New South Wales, here’s what you need to know about how the fires started. How did the Australian bushfires start? While wildfires can occur there year-round, Australia goes through a fire season during their warmer months because the hot, dry weather and wind makes it easy for flames to spread.
This year, the combination of 40C temperatures and strong winds has caused the fires to spread. Scientists have said there’s no doubt man-made global warming has played a significant role in feeding the wildfires.
Long-term Australian resident Russell Crowe highlighted in a message after he won a Golden Globe for his role in The Loudest Voice: ‘Make no mistake, the tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate change-based. ‘We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is. ‘That way, we all have a future. Thank you.’ The speech was read by Jennifer Aniston as Crowe was home taking precautions against the bushfires.
The bushfires are often started by natural causes such as lightning strikes, however humans are also sometimes to blame. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, New South Wales police have taken legal action against 183 people and have charged 24 people with deliberately starting bushfires this fire season. One of those charged has been volunteer firefighter Blake William Banner, 19, who was arrested in relation to seven different blazes which he later returned to fight. South Coast Police District crime manager, Detective Inspector Scott Nelson, is quoted in the publication as saying: ‘We have zero tolerance for this type of behaviour. ‘[Deliberately lighting a bushfire] is a very serious offence. It’s a very serious risk to the community.’ He added that there is a ‘continual threat’ of arsonists – or ‘firebugs’ as they’re known – at this time of year in particular and that perpetrators would face ‘serious penalties’ and possibly a ‘substantial time in jail’.
Swinburne University professor and director of the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science James Ogloff told The Australian that around 50% of bushfires were lit by firebugs and that fire season gets them excited, saying: ‘They’re interested in seeing fire, interested in setting fire and quite often the information around how fires burn and accelerate excites them.’ Melbourne University associate professor Janet Stanley told the publication that typically arsonists are males aged from 12-24 or in their 60s.
She said: ‘There is no one profile, but generally they seem to have a background of disadvantage, a traumatic upbringing and often have endured neglect and abuse as a child. ‘They are often kids not succeeding in school, or they have left school early and are unemployed. The boundaries between accidentally and purposefully are unclear because many arsonists don’t plan on causing the catastrophe that occurs. Often there is not an intention to cause chaos and the penalties for accidentally lighting a fire are far less than purposefully lighting a fire.’ How big are the bushfires now? Authorities have said that 381 homes were destroyed in New South Wales this week, and in New South Wales and Victoria there are over 200 fires currently burning. On Thursday, a cloud of ash from the fires spread over 2,500 miles to New Zealand.
So far, tens of thousands of people have been left homeless by the fires in New South Wales and nearly half a billion animals have keen killed. There are fears that entire species may have been wiped out by the flames, with koalas having been labelled ‘functionally extinct’ in November.
Is it safe to visit Australia? The Foreign Office is not currently cautioning against visiting Australia. If you have already planned to go, you should contact whoever runs the accommodation you’ve arranged to make sure they can still host you.
According to the government: ‘Poor air quality can occur some distance from the sites of the fires and provoke respiratory conditions. If you’re in or near an affected area or planning any travel, stay safe, monitor TV news, radio and social media channels for updates, and follow the instructions and advice of local authorities.’ Their website also highlights: ‘In the event of emergency, always dial Triple Zero (000).’