Australia is facing the worst fires in its history. Even though bushfires happen in Australia every year, the current situation is completely different. 2019 was the hottest and driest year in Australia since records started 120 years ago. As a consequence, fire season already started in October instead of January. By now, the fires have reached ecosystems that normally do not burn. While fires are part of the natural cycles in some Australian ecosystems, organisms in these ecosystems cannot cope with fire.
Fires could cover entire countries
The fires in Australia are so apocalyptic that it is hard to image the amount of lives taken by it. The size of the fires belittles all other fires we witnessed in the last few years. So far, over 10 million ha of land have burned, which is larger than many European countries and larger than the devastating fires in the Amazon, Siberia and California in 2018 and 2019. And peak fire season in Australia has just begun. We are way beyond the point, where we can control these fires and they will probably continue to burn at least until March.
Disaster for wildlife in Australia
Some estimations say that the fires killed over 1.25 billion animals. The areas, where the fires have ravaged, are scattered with dead animals. And it is not only the size that makes them so devastating. Due to strong winds, the fires are spreading so fast that even fast runners like kangaroos cannot escape from them. It will take decades or even longer until nature can regenerate. And the threat is not over, when the fires are over. The affected area is so big, that it destroyed whole ecosystems and connections between different populations. This means surviving animals not might find mates.
Some ecosystems may not ever recover to anything like their former condition
The losses are so severe that several species face extinction as a consequence of the wildfires. This includes iconic species like the koala and the quokka. Australia hosts thousands of endemic species due its isolation and diversity, so the fires might have a massive impact on its biodiversity. We will only be able to asses the real impact, when the fires are over and all affected areas can be surveyed. But we have to be prepared for the worst.
The extent of damage to wildlife lead to unconventional help for animals. The government of New South Wales airdropped tons of vegetables in affected areas to feed animals that survived the fires.
Australia might just be the beginning
Please also read: European Wilderness is also threatened by fire
The biggest concern for many is that these fires might only be the beginning. The world is getting warmer and periods of drought and heat will become more regular in Australia. This means fires of this magnitude might become normal.
The only positive coming out of this is the incredible willingness to support the victims of the fires. Millions of Dollars were donated from all over the world. Maybe this unbelievable tragedy will raise global awareness for the danger of the climate crisis.