Mass Evacuations Underway as Australian Wildfires Rage On

States of emergency declared as officials urge thousands to evacuate their homes.


Australia Wildfires

A helicopter dumps water on a fire in Victoria’s East Gippsland region on Dec. 30, 2019. Fires continued to rage in Australia into 2020, causing fatalities and compromising air quality. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning)

Major wildfires continue to rage across many parts of Australia, and the blazes have resulted in at least 20 fatalities, with 28 people unaccounted for. More than 12 million acres have burned, and states of emergency have been declared in New South Wales and Victoria, with mass evacuations underway.

Potentially catastrophic conditions are expected in the next 24 hours, as temperatures again head above 104 degrees Fahrenheit with winds expected to increase, then shift late in the day.

Smoke from the fires has been inundating southern Australia and even dirtying glaciers in New Zealand. Earlier in December, the smoke in Sydney was recorded at 11 times the hazardous limit. Wildfires often compromise air quality, raising health concerns for residents, particularly older adults, young children and those with breathing conditions or compromised immune systems.

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 across many areas of the country, particularly New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia – where the fires season normally peaks in February.

Direct Relief has staff based in Australia and is in communication with local authorities, including the Victorian State Emergency Service, as well as residents directly impacted by the fires. Direct Relief maintains a strategic emergency stockpile with medications and supplies that are often specifically requested during a wildfire, including a standing inventory of N95 masks, oxygen concentrators, respiratory medications like inhalers and nebulizers, and other supplies.

Though Australia is not a country that typically needs disaster assistance, the scale of the fires so early in the fire season may prompt requests for assistance, and Direct Relief is ready to respond.

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