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‘Everything Is Burning’: Australian Inferno Continues, Choking off Access to Cities Across Country

‘Everything Is Burning’: Australian Inferno Continues, Choking off Access to Cities Across Country

Australia is on fire.

The country on Saturday saw delayed flights on the second day of a national state of emergency due to raging brushfires near every major city and choked-out smoke conditions.

“My god,” Howden tweeted.

This map comes from here:













The fires in Australia’s southeastern state of New South Wales (NSW) were at the “catastrophic” level on Saturday, according to the BBC.

“These fires are likely to continue to spread well past Christmas,” said NSW rural fire services inspector Ben Shepherd.

Photos shared on social media showed hazy skies around the country.

“Everything is burning,” said one Twitter user.

A few minutes ago, no filter. Everything is burning



















View image on Twitter

Fires the size of Kansas… (picture taken Thursday on Sydney Harbour)

As Common Dreams reported Thursday, Australia just endured a heat wave that broke records for temperature in consecutive days.

“I think this is the single loudest alarm bell I’ve ever heard on global heating,” said Kees van der Leun, a director at the American consultancy firm Navigant.

Temperatures dropped on the back of a cooling wind on Saturday, but, as The Guardian reported, the wind brings with it other problems:

A southerly change swept through at 5pm, making the fire even more erratic and changing the fire direction. Around this time, NSW authorities began warning of a bushfire-generated thunderstorm that had formed over Currowan and Tianjara fires in the Shoalhaven area, on the NSW south coast.
The fire service said this would lead to increasingly dangerous fire conditions. Such storms, known as pyroCB, can produce embers hot enough to spark new fires 30km from the main fire.

While his country was on fire, right-wing climate-denying Prime Minister Scott Morrison was on vacation in Hawaii. Morrison returned to Australia on Saturday after two firefighters died fighting one of three huge blazes near Sydney. Morrison’s absence during the crisis provoked outcry from constituents.

One Twitter user posted a picture showing from above the blazes around Sydney as Morrison was arriving in the city, reportedly after circling for an hour due to runway closures.

View image on Twitter
What Scott Morrison saw landing into Sydney tonight, after an hour delay because of runway closures #auspol

A map of the city showed only two routes out of Sydney due to the fires.

View image on Twitter

“Today has been an awful day,” NSW rural fire services commissioner Shane Fitzsimmon told reporters.

Fitzsimmon added that the fires were largely out of any meaningful control barring nature taking a hand.

“We will not get on top of these fires until we get some decent rain — we have said that for weeks and months,” said Fitzsimmon.

According to Reuters, the Australian Bureau of Meterology has reported there will be no significant rainfall in the country for at least the next two months.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

Kangaroos Flee Devastating Fires in Australia

Source: EcoWatch

By:  Common Dreams Dec. 23, 2019 09:08AM EST

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ADDED 12/28/2019

No, koalas aren’t ‘functionally extinct’—yet

As koalas suffer in the Australian bushfires, misinformation has spread about their demise. Here’s what we know.

A koala is pictured in Queensland, Australia. The iconic marsupials have an extensive habitat range along Australia’s eastern coast, where a large number of bushfires are burning.
Photograph by Suzi Eszterhas, Minden Pictures
5 Minute Read

By Natasha Daly

Australia is in the midst of a catastrophic and unprecedented early fire season. As dozens of bushfires rage up the country’s eastern coast, from Sydney to Byron Bay, incinerating houses, forest, and even marshland, one of Australia’s most iconic animals has taken center stage in headlines.

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A female koala, named Anwen by her rescuers, receives treatment at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, Australia. She was burnt in a brushfire ravaging the area.

Photograph by Nathan Edwards

Images of burned, dying koalas have emerged as a symbol of the fire’s devastating toll. “They’re such helpless little things,” says Christine Adams-Hosking, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Queensland in Australia. “A bird can fly, a kangaroo can hop very fast, but koalas are so slow. They basically just get stuck where they are.”

The plight of the defenseless animals has sparked a flurry of concern—and confusion. Over the weekend, erroneous declarations that the animals have lost most of their habitat and are “functionally extinct” made the rounds in headlines and on social media, illustrating just how quickly misinformation can spread in times of crisis.

Red dots show locations of fires detected in Australia the week ending Nov. 25, 2019.

Sources: NASA; IUCN

Koalas are considered vulnerable to extinction—just a step above endangered—and reports indicate that between 350 and a thousand koalas have been found dead so far in fire-devastated zones of northern New South Wales.

But, experts say, we are not looking at the death of a species—yet. “We’re not going to see koalas go extinct this fast,” says Chris Johnson, professor of wildlife conservation at the University of Tasmania. “Koala populations will continue to decline because of lots of interacting reasons, but we’re not at the point where one event could take them out.”

Here’s the current situation:

Why are koalas suffering so much in this fire season?

When it comes to fire, everything seems to be stacked against koalas. Their only real defense is climbing higher into the eucalyptus trees where they make their homes—little defense at all in a raging forest fire.

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Left: Volunteers from the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital search for injured koalas after a brushfire ripped through prime breeding grounds.

Right: Koala Hospital staff tend to the injuries of Peter, a male koala found severely

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Photograph by Nathan Edwards (Left) and Photograp by Nathan Edwards (Right)
Eucalyptus itself is some of the most fire-adapted vegetation on Earth, able to sprout and grow anew in the immediate aftermath of fires. In normal fire conditions, the flames wouldn’t typically reach the top of the trees, leaving the koalas relatively unscathed. The spike we’re seeing in koala deaths is an indicator that something is wrong, says David Bowman, director of the Fire Center Research Hub at the University of Tasmania.

The scale of the current fires—largely a result of climate change and the slow death of Aboriginal fire management methods—has no precedent, according to Bowman. “They are burning at a particularly high intensity,” he says.

Packed with oil, the trees are burning hot and fast, sometimes exploding and sending sparks yards in every direction.

It’s only the spring in Australia. “In terms of then bushfire crisis, this is the supporting act,” Bowman says. He worries that the situation will be far worse come in January and February, as temperatures continue to rise and drought is exacerbated.

How many koalas are left?

In 2016, experts estimated that there are about 329,000 koalas in Australia, which represents an average of a 24 percent decline in populations over the past three generations.

“It’s very difficult to estimate koala populations, even at the best of times,” Adams-Hosking says, because they have a very wide range across eastern Australia, and are human-shy and found very high up in trees. “Some populations are becoming locally extinct and others are doing just fine.”

Koalas are threatened by land development, food degradation (increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has diminished the nutritional quality of eucalyptus leaves), drought, dog attacks, and chlamydia. (Read more about the threats posed by cars and dogs.)

And, yes, fire too. In certain areas that have been hard hit by fire, it’s possible that local koala populations won’t recover, “but it’s too early to tell,” says Adams-Hosking. “We’d need monitoring over several years.”

No. Koalas’ range is large, extending along Australia’s entire Eastern coast. The recent bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland cover about a million hectares, Fisher says (and some estimates indicate as many as 2.5 million hectares), but the area of forest in eastern Australia where koalas can live is more than 100 million hectares.

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Koala Hospital volunteers found this mother and her baby searching for food and water on the ground in the Port Macquarie fire zone. The pair, named Julie and Joey, are now receiving care at the hospital.

Photograph by Nathan Edwards

Furthermore, just because an area has been affected by fire, says Grant Williamson, a postdoctoral fellow specializing in landscape ecology at the University of Tasmania, “does not mean it has been ‘destroyed’ and is no longer suitable for occupation by koalas.”

Are koalas ‘functionally extinct?’

“Functionally extinct” refers to when a species no longer has enough individual members to produce future generations or play a role in the ecosystem. (Learn more: What is extinction? The answer is complicated.)

Koalas 101Koalas are not bears—they’re marsupials. Learn about koalas’ unique traits, including six opposable “thumbs,” downward-facing pouches, and an ability to sleep nearly all day in tree branches.
The headlines claiming that koalas are functionally extinct appear to be based on a claim from a koala conservation group earlier in 2019. Scientists disputed it then and continue to dispute it now: “It is threatened in some parts of its range and not in others,” says Diana Fisher, associate professor in the school of biological sciences at the University of Queensland.

For some local populations of koalas in the fire zones, especially in northern New South Wales, the impact has likely been “catastrophic,” Adams-Hosking says. A third of koalas in the fire zones there may have perished.

But other populations, such as those in the southern state of Victoria, have not been affected by these fires at all, according to Johnson.

So what’s next?

“It’s not looking good for koalas at all, even before the fires,” says Adams-Hosking. While they have government protections—it’s illegal to kill a koala, for instance—their habitat is highly vulnerable, she says. “Very little of koala habitat is designated as protected area. Almost nothing.” She argues that the government needs to put the environment before economic growth. “Until that political will kicks in—and in Australia, it hasn’t—it’s not going to get any better for koalas.”

Adams-Hosking and David Bowman, the landscape fire expert, both argue that in addition to protecting land, it’s vital to start looking at rewilding and relocating koalas. “We’ve got to get with the program and start adapting, says Bowman. “If we want koalas, we’ve got to look after them. We need to step up.”

Natasha Daly is a writer and editor at National Geographic, where she covers animal welfare, exploitation, and conservation. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


Australia has been hotter, fires have burnt larger areas

The word unprecedented is applied to almost every bad thing that happens at the moment, as though particular events could not have been predicted, and have never happened before at such a scale or intensity. This is creating so much anxiety, because it follows logically that we are living in uncertain time: that there really is a climate emergency.

The historical evidence, however, indicates fires have burnt very large areas before, and it has been hotter.

Some of the catastrophe has been compounded by our refusal to prepare appropriately, as is the case with the current bushfire emergency here in Australia. Expert Dr Christine Finlay explains the importance of properly managing the ever increasing fire loads in an article in today’s The Australian. While there is an increase in the area of national park with Eucalyptus forests, there has been a reduction in the area of hazard reduction burning.

The situation is perhaps also made worse by fiddling with the historical temperature record. This will affect the capacity of those modelling bushfire behaviour to obtain an accurate forecast.

We have had an horrific start to the bushfire season, and much is being said about the more than 17 lives lost already, and that smoke has blown as far as New Zealand. Unprecedented, has been the claim. But just 10 years ago, on 9 February 2009, 173 lives were lost in the Black Saturday inferno. On 13th January 1939 (Black Friday), 2 million hectares burnt with ash reportedly falling on New Zealand. That was probably the worst bushfire catastrophe in Australia’s modern recorded history in terms of area burnt and it was 80 years ago: January 13, 1939.

According to the Report of the Royal Commission that followed, it was avoidable.

In terms of total area burnt: figures of over 5 million hectares are often quoted for 1851. The areas now burnt in New South Wales and Victoria are approaching this.

Last summer, and this summer, has been hot in Australia. But the summer of 1938-1939 was probably hotter. In rural Victoria, the summer of 1938-1939 was on average at least two degrees hotter than anything measured with equivalent equipment since, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Mean maximum summer (December, January February) temperatures as measured at Rutherglen in rural Victoria by The Australian Bureau of Meteorology for the period when mercury thermometers were used. Data unadjusted/not homogenised.

The summer of 1938-1939 was probably the hottest ever in recorded history for the states of New South Wales and Victoria. It is difficult to know for sure because the Bureau has since changed how temperatures are measured at many locations and has not provided any indication of how current electronic probes are recording relative to the earlier mercury thermometers.

Further, since 2011, the Bureau is not averaging measurements from these probes so the hottest recorded daily temperature is now a one-second spot reading from an electronic devise with a sheath of unknown thickness. In the United States similar equipment is used and the readings are averaged over five (5) minutes and then the measurement recorded.

The year before last, I worked with the Indonesian Bureau of Meteorology (BMKG), and understood their difficulty of getting a temperature equivalence between mercury thermometers and readings from electronic probes at their thousands of weather stations. The Indonesian Bureau has a policy of keeping both recording devices in the same shelter, and taking measurements from both. They take this issue very seriously, and acknowledge the problem.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has a policy of a three year period of overlap, yet the metadata shows that for its supposedly highest quality recording stations (for example Rutherglen), the mercury thermometer is removed the very same day an electronic probe is installed. This is a total contravention of the Bureau’s own policy, and nothing is being done about it.

I explained much of this to Australia’s Chief Scientist in a letter some years ago — neither he, nor the Bureau, deny that our current method of recording temperatures here in Australia is not covered by any international ISO standard. It is very different from methods currently employed in the United States and also Indonesia, and as recommended by the World Meteorological Organisation.

Then there is the issue of the remodelling of temperatures, I explained how this affects trends at Rutherglen in a blog post early last year.

The remodelling, that has the technical term of homogenisation, is a two-step process. With respect to the temperature maxima at Rutherglen, the Bureau identified a ‘statistically significant discontinuity’ in 1938–1939. Values were then changed.

It is somewhat peculiar that the Bureau did not recognise, in its process of remodelling the historical data for Rutherglen, that the summer of 1938-1939 was exceptionally hot because of drought, compounded by bushfires. Rather David Jones and Blair Trewin at the Bureau used the exceptional hot January of 1939 as an excuse for remodelling the historical temperature record at Rutherglen, with the changed values subsequently incorporated into international data sets.

These made-up values are then promoted by the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This propaganda is then tweeted by Hollywood superstars like Bette Midler to The Australian Prime Minister.

After a recent Sky News Television interview that I did with Chris Smith several people have contacted me about the hottest day ever recorded in Australia. They have suggested it is 16th January 1889 being 53.1 degrees Celsius at Cloncurry in Queensland. A problem with this claim is that the temperature was not measured from within a Stevenson screen, though it was a recording at an official station. A Stevenson screen (to shelterer the mercury thermometer) was not installed by Queensland meteorologist Clement Ragge at Cloncurry until the next month, until February 1889.

The hottest temperature ever recorded in Australia using standard equipment (a mercury thermometer in a Stevenson screen) at an official recording station is 51.7 degrees Celsius (125 degrees Fahrenheit) at the Bourke Post Office on January 3, 1909.

We are all entitled to our own opinion, but not our own facts.

This article originally appeared at the author’s website.


  • Environmental scientist Dr. Jennifer Marohasy is a senior fellow at the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs.

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A Continent Ablaze

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