Geographies in Depth

5 global efforts to tackle Australian bushfires

Firefighters attempt to extinguish a bushfire at the Windsor Downs Nature Reserve, near Sydney September 10, 2013. More than 550 firefighters are working on several bush fires across New South Wales (NSW) that have left one house destroyed and six firefighters injured, according to the NSW Rural Fire Services. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz (AUSTRALIA - Tags: DISASTER) - GM1E99A1BMB01

People and governments around the world are rallying to help Australia combat the raging fires. Image: REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

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Future of the Environment

  • Bushfires continue to rage across huge tracts of land in Australia.
  • Firefighters from the United States and Canada have joined the rescue efforts, assisting thousands of local volunteers to combat the flames.
  • The scale of the crisis has prompted support and donations from around the world.

The scale and intensity of Australia’s bushfires have shocked people around the globe, prompting an outpouring of help and support.

An area of land covering 50,000 square kilometres has been scorched, much of it in the states of New South Wales and Victoria. So far, the fires have claimed at least 25 lives, engulfed around 2,000 homes and killed an estimated 1 billion animals. The flames have filled the skies with billowing smoke blankets and devastated local ecosystems.

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As the bushfires continue to rage, here are some of the ways people and governments around the world are helping Australia – from volunteers joining the fight on the ground to celebrities holding fundraisers.

1. International firefighters
Acres burned in selected recent major wildfire events
The Australian bushfires in comparison to other recent wildfires around the world Image: Statista

Wildfires pose a threat to many parts of the world most years, but climate change is increasing their scale and frequency.

In 2019, blazes consumed more than 6.5 million acres (approximately 26,000 square kilometres) of land in Siberia. Australia’s current crisis dwarfs this event, scorching an area nearly double in size.

Recognizing the magnitude of the problem, a number of countries have committed firefighters to help in relief efforts.

The US National Park Service dispatched a team of more than 100 expert firefighters from California to Australia. In previous years, Australians have travelled to the United States and Canada to share expertise and manpower to combat large wildfires.

Canada also sent blaze specialists to help manage efforts to control the spreading flames.

2. Air rescue

From across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand deployed three NH90 helicopters and crew from the Royal New Zealand Air Force to airlift people to safety. The evacuations are supported by ground crew from the force’s combat engineer section.

Coastal communities like Mallacoota, in Victoria, have been trapped by encroaching flames. Despite being hampered by thick smoke, helicopter flights have been ferrying residents out of harm’s way.

Facing fires the size of some smaller European countries, helicopters are a big help in getting to stranded people quickly, and distributing supplies to remote or cut-off communities.

3. Local volunteers

Closer to home, rescue efforts rely on thousands of local volunteers who put their daily lives, and jobs, on hold to combat the blazes.

Volunteer fire brigades are common across southeast Australia. Recruits come from towns and rural communities, where bushfires are a fact of life in summer months.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service claims to be the world’s largest volunteer firefighting organization. More than 72,000 volunteers make up 2,000 brigades across the state. Volunteer forces are common in other states, including neighbouring Victoria.

This army of unpaid firefighters make up the bulk of people on the ground tackling the blazes. The video below shows the kind of dangers these firemen face.


4. Celebrity fundraisers

Celebrities including Chris Hemsworth, Nicole Kidman and Sir Elton John have made donations in support of rescue efforts.

Among many other fundraising events, top tennis stars including Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will take part in a match scheduled before the start of this year’s Australian Open in Melbourne.

5. Animal rescue
Australia Zoo
The Australia Zoo is treating over 90,000 animal patients during the bushfires. Image: Instagram/bindisueirwin

Amid reports of as many as 1 billion animals dying in the fires, one zoo has been working around the clock to help rescue them.

The family-run Australia Zoo, founded by conservationist Steve Irwin, usually administers lifesaving treatment to between 6,000 and 8,000 animals each year. But staff of the wildlife hospital have treated tens of thousands of animal victims of the bushfires, including birds, kangaroos and koalas.

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Related topics:
Geographies in DepthNature and BiodiversityClimate Action
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