183 Australians have been arrested under arson charges, accused of having deliberately started bushfires, even as the country faces its biggest bushfire crisis in living memory. Around two dozen people have reportedly been killed, including firefighters and volunteers dousing the flames, in the over 200 fires raging across several parts of Australia. Hundreds of thousands of wild animals are reported dead, thousands of citizens displaced, and more than 2,000 homes and close to 7.3 million hectares of land (bigger than Ireland) have been scorched in this year’s fires already.
Even as the inferno rages on for over four months, it is estimated that the worst phase of the bushfire season is yet to arrive. The current summer in Australia has broken all records as temperatures reached close to 50 degrees celsius, with predictions remaining dismal until mid-February.
Smog and pollution levels have also continued to skyrocket. Several cities, including Sydney which is surrounded by massive fires, have registered an Air Quality Index of 1,000 and above, with certain neighborhoods and township at close to the extremely hazardous 2,000 mark. The bushfire smoke has traveled far and wide, with heavy pollution and smog being reported as far away as the Chilean capital of Santiago.
Australian authorities have responded inadequately in dealing with the fires. While some alleged arsonists have been arrested, including people from the age groups of 12 to 60, essential services remain severely strained and firefighters are yet to receive aid for firefighting gear. Scientists and meteorologists maintain that the fires are a direct result of climate change that has caused severe drought and an unprecedented heat wave in the continent, however, the government refuses to acknowledge this fact.
Bushfires are common in the hinterlands of Australia until the months of April and May, and generally do not cause damage at the scale seen today. However, over the past decade, the incidents of bushfires have increased, along with their intensity.
Last summer, Australia similarly suffered from a large bushfire incident, nevertheless, the government overlooked the seriousness of the matter and has come off as grossly ill-prepared this year as well.
Recently, an outburst from a firefighter who was among the team dealing with a fire near the town of Nelligen in New South Wales caught national attention on social media. The firefighter who was returning from an unsuccessful attempt at dousing a raging bushfire that consumed seven houses, can be seen firing expletives addressed to the prime minister Scott Morrison, while speaking to the local news media before collapsing on the ground. The response of the Rural Fire Services was to terminate him from service, rather than demand for more resources from the government.
Firefighters, especially volunteers, have been raising calls for more resources and help from the government, as they try to douse or contain the over 200 fires blazing across the country. But the national fire services, including the Rural Fire Services, have barely paid any heed to the matter and have consistently stated that they have enough resources to deal with the massive infernos raging across the country, some of which stretch over a thousand kilometers.