Scorched Earth in Australia

Lilli Ahlers, Reporter

Bushfires have spread over 18 million acres of land in Australia since August of last year. Australia has been suffering from the blazes of their worst wildfire season ever. These blazes have razed homes and wiped out entire towns, not to mention the habitats and ecosystems where the animals live. Videos and articles have shown the hell that is happening in Australia. Social media has been providing support, donating as much money as they can, and celebrities donating to the cause. For example, Chris Hemsworth, posted a video on Instagram, about how he will help donate and give back to the men and women who are fighting on the front lines. 

So much of the fire has been bushlands, forests, and national parks. Nearly half a billion animals have been impacted by the fires alone. With even more millions of animals dead. This includes birds, reptiles, and mammals. “The total number of animals affected nationwide could be as high as a billion, according to Christopher Dickman, the University of Sydney ecologist who led the report,” said CNN in their latest article about the fires. Researchers are scared that the rate of disaster and loss could increase as the fire rages across Australia. Scientists predict that the damage to the wildlife species may be too much. Until this fire stops there is no way that they could calculate the total amount of animals dead. 

Over the past few years, Australia has had some major wildfires. So to them, a wildfire is nothing new. In the years these said wildfires have become more intense, and destructive. This is yet another problem caused by climate change. Animals, habitats, and ecosystems have been on the front lines since day one. At the moment, Australia has the highest death rate of any species in the world.

On January 20, 2020, Cliff Munson a firefighter instructor at Chemeketa Community College, says the fires take on significant challenges for firefighters. “The Australia Bushfires would be a logistical nightmare. The sheer number of people, equipment and support mechanisms would be overwhelming. All you can really do in that situation would be to try to confine the fire as much as possible and hope of a favorable change in weather or for enough equipment to arrive such as airborne water tankers. For the most part, clearing fuel and creating fire breakers is all about you can do.

Munson, who also happened to assist in the life-saving rescue, says it was so difficult in many ways as a firefighter.“It’s a lot of highs and lows. Nothing feels better than making a good rescue or stopping a fire threatening a neighborhood. Like anything else, after a period of time even running into a burning house or cutting someone out of a wrecked car or treating a gunshot wound or stabbing victim becomes routine. When it goes well, you feel good, when it doesn’t you try to remember that you did all that you could and you prepare for the next emergency. You cannot dwell on things that don’t turn out the way you wanted them to. If you do that you are no good to anyone. You have to have a short memory.”

When asked about what it is like to teach firefighting skills to young people, he said, “It is gratifying. I enjoy young people and I particularly like young people who have a focus in life. Most of my students are serious about learning the craft, and that makes them fun to be around.”

 Sue Wu is at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). Su is in the Department of Education and runs the Paleontology Labs at OMSI. Wu noticed that the rain has begun and that could also have an impact, “The effects of flooding after wildfires are worse. Without plants to hold the soil in place, there are more landslides, and soil and ash are washed into the rivers and lakes which pollutes the water.

Wu says, “ This is one of the worst wildfire seasons Australia has a record of. Because this is the third year of drought conditions in Australia, the wildfires started earlier and an area bigger than the state of West Virginia has been burned, devastating the people, plants, and animals who live there.  “Australia is home to many unique species that only live in Australia and are adapted to certain habitats. What will happen to these species will depend on how much of their habitat is lost, and if those habitats are connected to each other? For a species to recover and thrive, it’s populations need to be able to migrate and interbreed, which they can’t do if the populations are isolated in pockets of land.” 

When asked that already because of the fires one–third of the Koala population has been killed. What do you think will happen to the Koala population if this crisis is not stopped? She said, “Koala populations are much lower than they were two–hundred years ago because of hunting and loss of the Eucalyptus forests they live in. the deforestation that has been going on is a bigger threat to Koala populations than the 2019-2020 wildfires.

Wu was asked how the issue of climate change has had on the impact of dealing with fires and said, “Climate change is making Australia hotter and drier. This dries out the soil and plants, which creates more fuel for wildfires. With climate change, Australia’s wildfire seasons are longer and more intense than they would normally have been. There is also less overall rainfall in southern Australia, but more intense rain in parts of Australia, which causes severe problems with flooding. The actions that we take here in Oregon impact Australia and the rest of our planet. If we want to slow climate change, it’s critical work together to use less energy, switch to renewable energy, and make sure that we’re taking into account the communities more heavily impacted by climate change.”