More than 20 people have died during the fire season, and an estimated half a billion animals have been killed.

By Kimberly Truong
Updated Jan 06, 2020 @ 11:15 am
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The Golden Globes may be a celebration of art and escapism, but during this year's ceremony, plenty of attendees used their platform to draw attention to an escalating crisis: the fires in Australia.

While Australia battles bushfires every year, this fire season has seen unprecedented and widespread devastation. At this time, millions of acres have been torched across the country, more than 20 people's lives lost, and an estimated half a billion animals have been killed. The fires, which began several months ago, are continuing to ravage New South Wales and Victoria, and are finally beginning to draw broader global attention.

Here's a breakdown of what's going on — and how you can help.

What is causing the fires?

Every year, Australia's summer sees a fire season with hot, dry weather that makes it easy for blazes to spread, and natural causes are usually to blame. According to state agency Victoria Emergency, dry lightning started a number of fires in Victoria's East Gippsland region in late December, which then traveled more than 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) in just five hours.

Human activity might also be to blame — in November, the NSW Rural Fire Service arrested a 19-year-old volunteer firefighter on suspicion of arson, charging him with seven counts of deliberately setting fires over a six-week period.

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Why are the fires so bad this season?

This year, record-breaking temperatures, extended drought and strong winds have all come together to exacerbate fire conditions. After the driest spring on record, much of the country went through a severe heatwave as Australia recorded its hottest day on record in December.

Experts say climate change has worsened the scope of the fires, and that the fire damage is expected to get even worse in the future. Not to mention, scientific reports have stated that Australia is one of the most vulnerable developed countries in the world when it comes to climate change.

What damage has been done so far?

As of Monday, 14.7 million acres have been burned across the country's six states, according to CNN. In New South Wales alone, more than 1,300 houses have been destroyed, and in Sydney, the smoke levels in the month of December were so bad that air quality measured 11 times the "hazardous" level. Officials say 24 people have died nationwide this fire season, and an estimated 480 million animals have died across New South Wales. About a third of koalas in NSWmay have been killed in the fires, and a third of their habitat has reportedly been destroyed, according to Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

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How has the government responded?

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been lambasted for taking a vacation to Hawaii in December just as the fires worsened and ravaged the country. He has since said he "accept[s] the criticism."

"I have obviously returned from leave and I know that has caused some great anxiety in Australia and(my wife) Jenny and I acknowledge that," Morrison said in a news conference on Sunday. "If you had your time over again and you had the benefit of hindsight then [you'd] have made different decisions."

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the Australiam government announced a large-scale use of military assets — a deployment not seen since World War II — to combat the blazes. New Zealand also sent members of its military to assist, adding to the 157 New Zealand firefighters already deployed in Australia, and U.S. firefighters have also joined the effort. Morrison has since pledged an extra two billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion) to providing relief.

How you can help

Several organizations and volunteer services are aiding in the firefighting and recovery efforts for affected communities. Whether you want to help the firefighting organizations, wildlife, or affected populations, there are plenty of ways to help.

Donate to firefighting organizations:

Donate to relief efforts:

Donate to support wildlife:

  • The RSPCA bushfire appeal protects the pets, livestock and wildlife affected by bushfires.
  • Wires is a rescue organization collecting donations to help Australia's native fauna.