Australia bushfires: UAA students recommend reaching out

Australia is on fire with an estimated 15.6 million acres burned since July 1, 2019, due to widespread bushfires. At least 24 people and millions of animals have died. Many are left homeless, with over 1,000 properties set ablaze, according to a BBC article from Jan. 13.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit fire Capt. Dave Soldavini holds a baby kangaroo, known as a joey, that was rescued from the devastating wildfires in Australia in January 2020. Photo courtesy of the USDA Forest Service under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Australia experiences bushfires every year during the dry season. There are some years, however, that fires are extreme and difficult to contain. The last extreme bushfire, named Black Saturday, was in 2009 in Victoria. There were 173 deaths counted after it was contained.

As of Jan. 7, 32,400 square miles have burned across the continent. Fires travel fast. Grass fires travel at a speed of 14 mph and forest fires at 6.7 mph, according to BBC, compared to 6.2 mph, the average run speed of a human.

A view of Australia from space captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-3 on Nov. 12, 2019, shows smoke from wildfires between Sydney and Brisbane. Image courtesy of the European Space Agency under a CC-BY SA 2.0 license.

Areas substantially affected by the fire, in order from severity, are New South Wales, Queensland, the majority of other parts of Australia and last, Victoria, as shown in a visual representation on Reuters’ website, an interactive news agency. Kangaroo Island has also been affected with devastating results, such as an estimated 25,000 koalas perishing so far, half of the koala population on the island, according to BBC.

Fire itself is not the only cause of death and injury in Australia, there is also overwhelming smoke that has affected people and animals. Smoke has been drifting to Sydney for months, as shown in a BBC article from December 2019 titled “Air quality: How bad is Sydney’s smoke for health?”

The clean air standard for Sydney is measured in particulate matter, or PM, which is invisible to the naked eye. Particle matter is inhaled through the air and can be a cause for concern, since they may be coated in chemicals, such as lead, and can penetrate deep into the lungs. The particle matter standard for Sydney is PM 2.5 and the level has been as high as 734 since the fire started, the equivalent of smoking 37 cigarettes, according to the December 2019 BBC article.

Air quality changes for different areas of Australia depending on where the wind blows, but it is still at hazardous levels, much like how the wildfires of Alaska in summer 2019 affected air quality, just on a larger scale.

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Abdirisak Ali is a radiology major at UAA. He remembers the fires Alaskans experienced last summer.

“As humans, we have to help each other regardless of where we are from. It is also something that Alaskans are familiar with, as we have experienced fires here in the state,” Ali said.

Chris Dickman, an ecologist from the University of Sydney, estimated in a Jan. 4 BBC article that over 1 billion animals have perished since July 2019, not including fish, frogs, bats and insects.

Sam the koala, rescued in 2009 during the Black Saturday Bushfires in
Australia became an international symbol of hope and resilience in world media. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Heally of Museums Victoria under a CC-BY 4.0 license.

James Trezise, a policy analyst at the Australian Conservation Foundation, says that the overall number of animals killed is still growing in a Guardian article titled “A billion animals: some of the species most at risk from Australia’s bushfire crisis,” posted on Jan. 13.

“The number of species and ecosystems that have been severely impacted across their ranges is almost certain to be much higher, especially when factoring in less well-known species of reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates,” Trezise said in the article.

Jack Macdonald, a senior accounting major at UAA and a member of the Seawolves basketball team, is from Melbourne, Australia. His cousin, also from Melbourne, is currently fighting the bushfires in Australia. Macdonald believes climate change is a leading factor to the cause of the fires across the continent.

“I believe that there are a number of factors contributing to the extreme nature of the fires, climate change being one of them. With extreme weather conditions not only in Australia but all around the world, I believe that it’s clear that climate change is playing a major role,” Macdonald said in an email.

As fires rage on without indication of slowing down soon, aid is needed, according to Cari Dighton, the regional communications officer for the American Red Cross in the Alaska Region. She says the Red Cross has helped victims of the bushfires.

“We provide a gateway between folks and recovery. Besides financial aid, we provide the basics like relief supplies, food, water and other necessary items. We also provide psychological aid for people because events like this can be traumatic,” Dighton said.

The Australian Red Cross allocated $15 million dollars in funds for immediate relief, as stated on their website. This includes cash grants for people who lost homes in the fire.

“The reality is, the situation will continue for months, compounded by drought and extreme heat. The money that has been raised for the fund will continue to ensure our emergency teams are resourced and ready for wherever they’re needed,”according to the Australian Red Cross website.

Dighton encourages Alaskans to help in any way they can.

“The most direct way that people can help with the most impact from Alaska is to donate funds online,” Dighton said.

 

There are many ways to donate to Australia online. Some of them include:

The Australian Red Cross

The Australian Red Cross accepts dontations through its website at Redcross.org.au, a toll free number at 1800 RED CROSS (733-276) and checks or money orders at its address:

Australian Red Cross

GPO Box 2957

Melbourne VIC 3001

Please indicate which appeal or activity you would like your donation to go towards.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service accepts donations on their website at quickweb.westpac.com.au.

The Country Fire Authority or CFA 

Donations are accepted on their website at cfa.vic.gov.au.

Resources for animals can be found at:

Wires

Wires is Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organization and has been serving the communities for over 30 years, according to their website. They accept donations at wires.org.au. They also provide links through Facebook, Paypal and mailing in checks.

The Koala Hospital of Port Macquarie

The Koala Hospital of Port Macquarie is located in New South Wales and has a Facebook page, as well as a website, shop.koalahospital.org.au, for donations.

RSPCA

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Australia, or RSPCA, is the nation’s leading animal welfare charity. They accept donations through their website rspca.org.au.