The Speaker
Wednesday, 29 May 2024 – 22:16

How Australia Caught Fire

Thousands have been evacuated and thousands have been left homeless as fires continue to rage through millions of hectares of Australian land.

Fires aren’t uncommon in Australia, in fact, they are quite normal – the country always experiences bushfires and has a “fire season”, but this time the fires have raged much worse than usual. Since September when the major fires started, more than 6.3 million hectares have been burned – that’s about the size of 6.3 million sports fields.

The fires have so far claimed the lives of 28 people and claimed the houses of many thousands more. Every state and territory in Australia has experienced the fires to some extent in the last year, but the largest fires have been along the eastern and southern coast, including some of the most populated areas. Some estimates believe over a billion animals may have been killed in the fires to date, and some endangered species could even be driven to extinction.

The fires can have multiple causes, from lightning strikes and accidental sparks, to people deliberatly setting fire to bushes. Australia’s climate has been getting hotter and drier in recent times, leading to more fires, often with increased intensity.

A natural weather phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) has led to a particularly dry spell across the country. Put simply, the IOD is an imbalance in seawater temperatures between east and west. Recently, the eastern region has been experiencing colder waters, while the western region has been experiencing much warmer waters. The IOD has been especially strong this year, with its peak in October, leading to droughts in Australia but floods and landslides in East Africa.

As the skies of Australia turn orange and thousands lose their homes in the fires, many have been asking whether the fires can be linked to climate change. Some Australian politicians and leaders have refused to answe questions on climate change, and many have accused the government of not doing enough to combat it. Linking climate change to any specific incident is difficult, but it would certainly appear likely that climate change is contributing to the intensity of the fires. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s State of the Climate 2018 report said climate change had led to an increase in extreme heat events. Referring to changes in Australian’s climate, the bureau said;

“These changes affect many Australians, particularly the changes associated with increases in the frequency or intensity of heat events, fire weather and drought. Australia will need to plan for and adapt to some level of climate change.”

The Australian summer sees the country’s hottest months in December, January and February. Fires have been raging since last June and are still ongoing, with no clear end date in sight. 

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