Australia is facing an unprecedented national crisis as bushfires tear through rural communities across the nation. Since September, at least 20 people have died, and over 1,500 homes have been destroyed. Another 28 people have been reported missing after bushfires tore through busy tourist hubs at the beginning of the new year according to cnet.com.
The scale of the threat is immense, and fires continue to burn, with authorities calling for people to evacuate their homes as the country braces for more catastrophic danger.
Australians caught up in the crisis are taking to social media and pleading for help. I saw a video of a woman on Twitter where she ran into a forest that is burning, goes to one particular tree and the camera shows a koala that is burning and making noises because it’s so terrified.
Australian’s environment minister, Sussan Ley, said up to 30 percent or 8,400 koalas on the New South Wales mid-north coast may have been killed in the fires, according to BBC.
After seeing the disturbing video of the koala and knowing these scary facts, a question came to mind, what caused the fires? The fires could have started a number of ways, from carelessly discarded cigarettes to lightning strikes and arson, but the problem is that they are fueled by a number of factors like a lack of rain and low soil moisture, according to cnet.com.
The majority of these fires are burning in regional and rural areas where volunteer firefighting services are the main people fighting these fires. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has around 70,000 members, but most of them are performing unpaid work to protect the lives and homes of themselves and the people around them. Approximately 3,000 firefighters are on the ground every day fighting blazes, according to BBC.
This posed another question to me, when will these devastating fires end? There is no definite answer, but Ley has predicted that they will burn well into 2020. After all, Australia is only one month through summer and dry, hot conditions persist through March and April. Much needed rain, which would help alleviate some of the uncontrolled blazes, is still forecasted to be months away.
While it is harder to help put a stop to these fires while living in the U.S., it is certainly not impossible. One of the most common ways is through the Australian Red Cross. Since July, the Australian Red Cross has assisted more than 18,600 people affected by the fires, according to its website. The organization says that it is currently supporting thousands of people in evacuation centers and recovery hubs.
Peoples donations from all across the globe to the Red Cross have caused them to be able to deploy 1,285 trained staff and volunteers to disaster-affected communities. The money they raise is also going towards grants for the victims that have lost their homes and belongings to the fire. You can donate at www.redcross.org.au.
The New South Wales-based Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc., Australia's largest wildlife rescue organization, is accepting donations to fund the rescue and care of animals affected by the fires. In December, WIRES received more than 20,000 calls and volunteers attended more than 3,300 rescues, according to the organization's website. All animal rescuers are volunteers. You can donate at www.wires.org.au.
Through the Australian Koala Foundation one could "adopt" a koala through a symbolic foster program; your monthly fee funds protection efforts for wild koalas. One can also pay to "plant a tree" to help restore koala habitat. The foundation is also asking that Koala lovers to write letters to politicians in support of the Koala Protection Act. You can adopt your own koala at www.savethekoala.com.