Bushfires Are Raging Outside Every Major City in Australia. They’re Only Going to Get Worse
BY AMY GUNIA
Hundreds of bushfires are raging across Australia, with hotspots in every state.
And a fire tracker map maintained by researchers in Western Australia, shows that they are also threatening areas around every major city in the country.
On Friday night, an emergency warning was in place for a fire near Mount Mercer outside Melbourne and authorities warned residents of Cainbable, about 60 miles south of Brisbane, to take precautions against a bushfire burning there.
And it’s only going to get worse in the coming days as hot, windy conditions are expected in parts of the country on Saturday, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
“When you have very hot, dry, windy conditions, if all of those things come together, a fire can get quickly out of control,” Lesley Hughes, with the environmental group Climate Council of Australia, tells TIME.
“As the climate is warming up, we’re getting more and more extreme hot days and currently, of course, Australia is in the grip of probably unprecedented heatwave conditions almost right across the continent.”
Despite the bushfire crisis, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has argued that there is no direct link between Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and the severity of the fires burning across the country. However, he acknowledged that climate change could be impacting bushfires. Australia is one of the highest per capita emitters of carbon dioxide in the world, according to Climate Analytics, an advocacy group that tracks climate data.
The Prime Minister cut short his family holiday on Friday and apologized after two firefighters were killed battling bushfires in New South Wales.
Peter Dunn, a former commissioner for the Australian Capital Territory Emergency Services Authority and a member of advocacy group Emergency Leaders for Climate Action tells TIME that people are preparing for the worst.
“Everyone is very nervous about it,” he says. Dunn is taking personal precautions to try to ensure the safety of his home, which is on the south coast in New South Wales. “I was just outside moving away some old embers and burnt leaves off the front of our property,” he said. “We’ve got fires on all sides of us.”
A Catastrophic Fire Danger alert has been issued for Saturday for many parts of New South Wales in eastern Australia, including the Sydney area. Several other areas are under “extreme” fire danger alerts.
Important update to #Fire Danger Ratings for tmrw (Sat). Greater #Sydney, #Illawarra/Shoalhaven & Southern Ranges now all upgraded to #Catastrophic. Areas including #ACT & Greater #Hunter now rated as #Extreme. Conditions are potentially dangerous https://t.co/sFQFEWU22s pic.twitter.com/MQ4pNZOAEH
— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) December 20, 2019
People in Sydney posted photos this week of haze enveloping the city.
Sydney, Australia Bushfire haze. 1.30pm pic.twitter.com/clh3IqB9U7
— Tara SMITHSON (@TaraSMITHSON1) December 19, 2019
Bushfires burned in all directions outside of Sydney, including a fire near the Blue Mountains which has already destroyed an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.
Seven major bushfires were also burning across Southern Australia on Friday, including a massive fire which started in Cudlee Creek, a small town near Adelaide, reports the Adelaide Advertiser.
The South Australian Country Fire Services warned those in the area near Cudlee Creek to take shelter.
#Bushfire Emergency Warning for #HOLLANDS_CREEK_ROAD,_CUDLEE_CREEK #fire. You are now in danger. Take shelter in a solid building. Do not leave or enter this area in a vehicle or on foot. #EWM ID=0003632 #SAFires https://t.co/TYDROVL5bJ pic.twitter.com/E61FKag8U9
— Country Fire Service (@CFSAlerts) December 20, 2019
Several fires burned around Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city.
“Certainly this summer, these conditions, the ongoing drought, the heatwave and the fires, are really bringing home to people that climate change is not some future hypothetical issue,” she says.
Dunn agrees that the bushfire crisis has “fundamentally shifted” the climate debate in Australia. He and other climate change activists believe Morrison’s position on the country’s greenhouse gas emissions is hindering the government’s ability to tackle the bushfire criss.
“By not accepting the link between climate change and bushfires as fully as [the government] should, we’re not getting sufficiently prepared to cope with the problem,” Hughes says.
“It’s really, really frustrating, the ongoing intransigence of this federal Conservative government.”
She’s not the only Australian upset over government inaction. Protests broke out at Morrison’s office on Thursday, with demonstrators demanding action on climate change, while others criticized Morrison for taking a vacation to Hawaii during the fire crisis.
“We’ve had no leadership from the government whatsoever. They’ve been missing in action,” Dunn says.