Here’s What You Need to Know About the Australia Fires

Two weeks have passed since bushfires first raged across Australia. Now they have reached people’s front doors and there is no ignoring the devastation they will have on the country’s health.

Sydney has reported unprecedented levels of air pollution at eight times higher than the national benchmark. People are buying masks, walkers’ nonstop coughs have forced them to ride the bus and six people have perished since the fires began on November 8. 

To make matters worse, already sweltering New South Wales is expected to be hit with a heatwave this week, potentially increasing the bushfires there.

Despite those with asthma and other respiratory illnesses being advised to stay indoors, the air quality might not be that much better: people have reported that the smell of smoke has now seeped into their homes. At this point, there is little escape from the poor air conditions. 

As dangerous as the fires are for humans, their koala neighbors are actually more at risk. Two-thirds of their habitat is in flames and they have nowhere to hide. The population in Australia was already at a dismal 43,000 before the fires started and more than 350 are estimated to have been killed in a span of just three days, according to animal experts

Luckily, organizations such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare have enlisted canine detectives to hunt for koala survivors in their indigenous protected areas since their sense of smell is 10,000 times stronger than humans’. One area has been mostly consumed by the flames, but the koala-sniffing dogs have managed to save almost 10 survivors. As of November 18, one dog tracked enough koala scat and fur to indicate that several more koalas could be found in the upcoming days.

Dogs aren’t the only ones working diligently to prevent further loss of life. About 1,300 firefighters continue to extinguish about 50 bushfires on the east coast, half of which are uncontained. They continue to advise civilians to clean out their gutters and have a fire safety plan ready in the event that they need to evacuate. New Zealand firefighters will also join the fray, aided by an air tanker sent in by the U.S. that can dump up to 10,000 gallons of water and retardant on the flames. 

These concentrated efforts face the challenge of fires that have spread out over 4,000 miles, roughly the distance from D.C. to Paris. Thankfully, southern Australian weather forecasts indicate that a cool front will move through the south following the heatwave and hopefully bring about an end to the weeks-long wreckage.


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