Deadly wildfires in Australia have burned tens of millions of acres, killing dozens and leaving an estimated 1.25 billion animals dead.
States of Emergency have been declared in New South Wales, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory. Mass evacuations have been taking place when conditions allow.
About 5 million people have been affected by the fires. Hundreds of thousands are now displaced or have lost their homes.
Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne are blanketed in thick and hazardous smoke.
Check this page for ongoing updates as data becomes available, including from Direct Relief correspondents in Australia and at its California headquarters, as well as from its researcher team, who created the Factal.com-powered GIS map above.
January 29- Air quality is at “moderate” or better throughout Australia, with the exception of Orbost, in Victoria, which is rated “unhealthy” by The World Air Quality Project.
However, high temperatures throughout Victoria and NSW, exceeding 100°F have kept firefighters on alert— including Moyhu (Victoria) Fire Birgade Chief Alan Sampson, who spoke with Direct Relief for an upcoming story, on high alert for new fires.
January 28- A dispatch from Amarica Rafanelli, in New South Wales, after visiting the NSW Lifesaving Club:
“NSW Surf Lifesaving Club emphasized the need to protect their 70,000 lifeguards as fires continue to burn throughout the state. They expressed concerns about worsening conditions with the official “start” of fire season in February. They say smoky conditions have prevented lifeguards from seeing the ocean, making it difficult if not impossible for them to do their job during these extreme smoke events.”
January 27- Chris Alleway, of the Emergency Response Team, was able to source maps showing the extend of the fires’ destruction.
“This red circle is Sydney and the dark green is the Gospers Mountain Fire. 1 million hectares (2.6 million acres). 1380 kms just to drive around.”
“This fire itself is larger than the size of 33 countries. Wanted to share just to show this is the scale of what the fires have consumed. For perspective the total of lands burned is 6x this at more than 6 million hectares.”
January 26- Amarica Rafanelli caught up with Armene Zedmoda, who was visiting Lake Conjola for Australia Day with her kids:
“I think no one ever thought there was a need to wear masks until now. I haven’t felt the need to put it (mask) on, since I mostly work inside,” Zemoda said.
“It’s only been bad today. I don’t there have been any reports that suggest for a day or two it will go anything major. I’d be more worried about that coronoavirus, like germs, than smoke,” she said.
January 25- Amarica Rafanelli, with a dispatch:
“Fires are still burning in Canberra and lower parts of NSW. Air quality remains poor in those areas. Fires have calmed down in Victoria. This weekend, the air was heavy with smoke in Lake Conjola (NSW). Residents said it was “a good day” compared to what it has been. In Picton, a town about one hour south of Sydney, the air smelled of smoke but skies were clear. In Sydney, air quality shifts regularly as new fires pick up and winds change.”
January 24- Amarica Rafanelli with a photo (below) from Lake Conjola, which has the worst air quality in Australia today, according to The World Air Quality Project.
The air quality has been rated “very unhealthy,” which is the second most hazardous rating.
Chris Alleway reports that folks in the area are, “out and about, biking and walking” without masks.
The names of three Americans who died in a plane crash while fighting bushfires in Australia earlier this week have been released: Capt. Ian McBeth, 44, of Great Falls, Montana, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, 42, of Buckeye, Arizona, and Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr., 43, who was based in Navarre, Florida.
All three men were U.S. military veterans, and two were fathers. All leave behind bereaved wives.
McBeth, Hudson, and DeMorgan were working Coulson Aviation, which is based in Canada. They were killed when their C-130 plane crashed near Richmond, New South Wales on January 22.
January 23- A couple photos of the wildfires from NASA– one from Astronaut Christina Koch in the International Space Station, and one from
January 22- From Chris Alleway, of Direct Relief’s Emergency Response Team:
“Extremely smoky here in Sydney today (January 23 in Australia). Rain even has brown discoloration.”
Here is a photo from yesterday in Moruya, which is about 300 kilometers southwest along the coast from Sydney. Direct Relief sent 4 pallets of masks there, arriving today.
From Chris Alleway’s Direct Relief Emergency Response Situation Update:
“Recent spouts of rain have occurred in New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria, but despite the small reprieve, many fires continue to burn throughout Australia. Although, it has brought a sense of hope since the first fires began in October, the fight is far from over.”
Alleway also reports that an increasing focus of public health authorities is to educate the public on the dangers presented in burned areas, such as by asbestos. Asbestos was used pervasively in Kangaroo Island, which has been one of the hardest hit areas in Australia over the past months of bushfires.
January 15- A dispatch from Chris Alleway, a member of Direct Relief’s emergency response team, from New South Wales:
“The chemist shops (drug stores) are short on all kinds of respiratory supplies, like inhalers, and masks are definitely a part of that.”
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on this issue here:
Last week, in addition to bushfires, Australia was hit with dust storms, which spanned thousands of kilometers across the continent, according to NASA.
A dispatch from Gordon Willcock, deputy director of Direct Relief’s emergency response team, in Moyhu in Victoria, Australia:
“They’ve been under threat from local fires and inundated by smoke for days. Local farmers have been cutting fire breaks and setting up their properties ready to defend them and livestock from fire.”
January 14- Andrew Schroeder, vice president of research and analysis at Direct Relief, was interviewed by Factal’s Tyler Adams on the innovative ways he and his team are using the breaking news verification platform, along with mapping technology from Esri, to improve disaster response operations.
Read the full interview here:
January 13– Direct Relief has sent 430,000 N95/P2 masks to Australia, including 111,500 small size masks for children, with the help of Qantas.
The masks have been shipped to partners in Melbourne and Sydney for free distribution to first responders as well as impacted populations.
Air quality returned to “Poor” today in Victoria, Australia, with “Hazardous” quality foretasted for Tuesday in parts of the state, after an improvement to “Good” over the weekend.
Poor air quality is defined by the Environmental Protection Authority Victoria as:
“The air is probably dusty or smoky. Sensitive groups may experience symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath.”
Hazardous air quality is defined as:
“The air is probably extremely dusty or smoky. Everyone could be experiencing symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath.”
The latest official air quality ratings can be viewed here: https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/airwatch
Lara Cooper, Managing Editor of Digital Content and Strategy, from Melbourne:
“The importance of the mask distribution came into sharp focus as we spoke to an airport staff member, who saw our masks. He told us his elderly parents in New South Wales had been evacuated from their mobile home, stayed in their vehicle for two nights and then a local shelter. They’ve now returned home, since evacuations in their area were lifted, but air quality is a lingering concern, especially since his 83-year-old father already had breathing issues.”
January 12- Lara Cooper, Managing Editor of Digital Content and Strategy, with a dispatch from Melbourne:
“Residents in Melbourne had a reprieve over the weekend from the smoke with rains clearing the air. But on Monday, air quality in Melbourne has deteriorated again, and the smell of smoke is pervasive throughout the city. The skyline is currently shrouded in haze settling in from the bushfires. Health officials are urging people to be mindful of their time outside, especially people with preexistíng respiratory issues.”
January 11- As they have for so many previous disasters, the video game community has whipped into action, with streamers conducting charity streams to benefit wildfire responders and victims.
“Redzy,” who is based in the U.K. and “Blarg,” who is based in France, are two gamers who ran charity streams this week. Redzy will have an additional stream tomorrow, viewable on Twitch starting at 11 a.m. GMT.
January 10 – Direct Relief has shipped 317,500 masks to Australia, with another 112,500 on the way, all shipped, gratis, via Qantas Airlines.
Chris Alleway, a member of Direct Relief’s emergency response team, reports the following:
“The situation worsened as conditions were moved to extremely dangerous in New South Wales and parts of Victoria. High temperatures and winds increased activity, connecting two major fires into one, creating what they are calling a “mega blaze’.
“The next 48 hours will be crucial to halting major advancements of these fires, but there seems to be reprieve on the horizon with some light showers expected to fall in some of the affected areas.”
Alleyway noted that power is a major concern.
“…the fires are threatening an area that generates 1/3 of the power for the city of Melbourne, a population of over 5 million. If the power infrastructure is damaged or lost, repercussions could be catastrophic to the healthcare facilities without backup power and the local economy.”
January 9 – Direct Relief journalist Noah Smith looked at how animals are being impacted, which species are most at-risk, and how wildlife aid groups are being pressed into emergency response roles: Amid Australia’s Devastating Wildfires, Animal Rescue Groups Working Overtime
The Age covers Direct Relief’s shipment of 160,000 N95 masks: State on edge as weather conditions worsen
The Sydney Morning Herald reports on Direct Relief’s shipment: Through the roof’: Retailer flies in thousands of face masks as demand rockets
ABC’s Detroit affiliate, WXYZ, on critical factors to consider when contributing to the fire relief in Australia: Things to keep in mind when donating to Australian wildfire relief efforts, according to the BBB
January 7 – Andrew Schroeder, vice president of research and analysis at Direct Relief, reports on how the latest Facebook-provided data can help officials ” in determining the areas most at risk from fires and smoke in order to optimize distribution plans for masks and other health supplies.” Australian Bushfires: Mapping Population Dynamics
January 6 – Direct Relief journalist Talya Meyers covered the response to the fires, which involves shipping pallets full of N95 masks, in coordination with Australia’s Department of Health, Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning, the Victorian Country Fire Authority, and the Australian Red Cross: Australian Wildfires Prompt Global Outpouring of Support
January 3 – Melbourne-based Gordon Willcock, deputy director of Direct Relief’s emergency response team, with a status update and some additional context on the fires: Mass Evacuations Underway as Australian Wildfires Rage On
“Wildfires occur every summer in Australia, however, the current scale is unprecedented. A severe drought, which led to the hottest, driest year on record in Australia, combined with sustained high temperatures and windy conditions in December have created an exceedingly dangerous fire situation…”