Australia’s bushfires intensify its debate about climate change

Dec 31, 2019

THE FIRES eased over Christmas. But as 2020 neared, Australia’s inferno blazed anew. In the state of Victoria, thousands of people fled to the seashore on New Year’s Eve as bushfires ringed the coastal town of Mallacoota. Samuel McPaul, a volunteer firefighter, died earlier in neighbouring New South Wales when a “fire tornado”, as colleagues described it, overturned his vehicle. The federal government has called in military planes and ships to help evacuate people sheltering on beaches in both states. Experts say the fires are the most extensive in Australia’s history and are far from over. They have sparked heated debate about the impact of climate change and the government’s equivocal commitment to tackling it.

New South Wales is the country’s most populous state and has suffered some of the biggest losses: 15 lives and about 1,300 homes. (Pictured is a house under threat in Lake Conjola.) The state’s bushfires have covered almost 40,000 square kilometres, nearly the area of Denmark. That is greater than the total area during the past three years’ fire seasons. These usually start in October, Australia’s mid-spring. In 2019 the fires began in July. A drought that started in eastern Australia three years ago had left plenty of dry fuel. On December 18th Australia as a whole had its hottest day on record, at 41.9°C. The fires...

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