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Australia Wildfires

Australian Bushfires: Mapping Population Dynamics

Bushfires burn across Australia on Dec. 31, 2019, as seen from satellite imagery above. (Copernicus Sentinel photo)
Bushfires burn across Australia on Dec. 31, 2019, as seen from satellite imagery above. (Copernicus Sentinel photo)

Massive wildfires have burned over 15 million acres of land across Australia in the current fire season. Two dozen people have been killed. Tens of thousands have been displaced. Hundreds of millions of animals from across Australia’s unique ecosystems have lost their lives. The smoke plume from the fires in southeastern Australia has darkened skies as far away as New Zealand, across an area wider than Europe.

The fires currently show little sign of abating, due to extremely hot, dry and windy conditions, which provide exceptionally opportune circumstances for rapidly spreading wildfires.

Evacuations have moved quickly in many areas, both towards the coast, as fires have raged down to the shoreline, and away from heavily populated areas, many of which are surrounded by forests and national park lands.

Direct Relief is working with Quantas Airlines to ship 500,000 N95 masks to partners in eastern Australia working to protect communities from the impact of wildfire smoke, including the Australian Red Cross and the Department of Health and Human Services of Victoria.

Nearly 100,000 N95 respirator masks are loaded onto a Qantas plane in Los Angeles on Jan. 6, 2020, bound for wildfire-impacted areas of Australia. Direct Relief maintains the largest private inventory of N95 masks in California, and is coordinating with Australian agencies and organization to distribute the masks where they're needed most. Qantas shipped the masks free-of-charge. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)
Nearly 100,000 N95 respirator masks are loaded onto a Qantas aircraft in Los Angeles on Jan. 6, 2020, bound for wildfire-impacted areas of Australia. Direct Relief maintains the largest private inventory of N95 masks in California, and is coordinating with Australian agencies and organizations to distribute the masks where they’re needed most. Qantas transported the shipment, free of charge. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)

Facebook Disaster Maps Population Data

Using Facebook’s Disaster Maps data, the rate at which population densities have decreased and increased in certain areas throughout New South Wales, particularly in the dense coastal zone from Wollongong to Bega, can be seen in the images below. Each map shows a snapshot of the relative density of Facebook users with location services enabled at 4 p.m., local time, that day. All users who are part of the data set have opted-in to location tracking and their data has been anonymized.

Data from Facebook Disaster Maps has proven extremely useful during many wildfire events in determining the areas most at risk from fires and smoke in order to optimize distribution plans for masks and other health supplies.

Dec. 29, 2019

Dec. 30, 2019

Data from December 29 and 30 demonstrate high relative population densities all along the coastal area south of Sydney.

Dec. 31, 2019

Jan. 1, 2020

On December 31, 2019, and January 1, 2020,  severe wildfires spread to the Bateman’s Bay area. Rapid evacuations can be detected, with many residents moving both south and north along the coast, as well as inland towards Canberra.

Jan. 2, 2020

Jan. 3, 2020
By January 3,  evacuation areas along the coast had spread up to Nowra, with Canberra seeing very significant rates of increase throughout most of the city.

Jan. 4, 2020

Jan. 5, 2020

Jan. 6, 2020

As of the afternoon of January 6, there is some evidence of returnees in areas to the south and north of Bateman’s Bay, although evacuations persist.

As additional information becomes available with daily updates to Facebook Disaster Maps, more maps will be posted to this ongoing story.

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