Entire towns have been engulfed in flames, and residents across several states have lost their homes. The heaviest structural damage occurred in NSW, the country’s most populated state, where 1,588 homes have been destroyed and over 650 damaged.
In total, more than 7.3 million hectares (17.9 million acres) have been burned across Australia’s six states — an area larger than the countries of Belgium and Denmark combined. The worst-affected state is NSW, with more than 4.9 million hectares (12.1 million acres) burned.
To put that into perspective, the 2019 Amazon rainforest fires burned more than 7 million hectares (about 17.5 million acres), according to Brazilian officials. In California, which is known for its deadly wildfires, just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) burned in 2019, and about 404,680 hectares (1 million acres) in 2018.
A total of 24 people across Australia have died this fire season, including several volunteer firefighters.
How many animals have died?
About half a billion animals have been affected by the fires across NSW, with millions likely dead — and that’s a conservative estimate. That number could be as high as one billion nationwide, according to ecologists from the University of Sydney.
The figures for NSW include birds, reptiles, and mammals, except bats. It also excludes insects and frogs, so the real sum is almost certain to be higher, the ecologists said.
Almost a third of koalas in NSW may have been killed in the fires, and a third of their habitat has been destroyed, said Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley.
There are more than 2,000 firefighters working on the ground in NSW alone, and more support is on the way — the US, Canada, and New Zealand have sent additional firefighters to help.
When will the fires end?
Unfortunately, Australia is only just entering its summer season. Normally, temperatures peak in January and February, meaning the country could be months away from finding relief.
The fires are unlikely to end entirely since they are an annually occurring event — and may even get worse if recent years are a guide.
You can also help the devastated animal population by giving to wildlife rescue and treatment groups like the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital through GoFundMe, and Currumbin Wildlife Hospital.
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