Australia bushfires: As a quarter of a million people are urged to evacuate their homes, a look at key events in the crisis

Reuters

Since late October, nearly 30 people have been killed, millions of hectares of land burned and thousands of homes destroyed

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Australia urged nearly a quarter of a million people to evacuate their homes today and prepared military backup as authorities said the next few hours could be “very, very challenging” even as rain poured down in some parts.

Authorities sent emergency texts to 240,000 people in the state of Victoria, telling them to leave. People in high-risk regions in New South Wales and South Australia were also urged to think about leaving, but officials did not say how many.

Since October, 27 people have been killed and thousands subjected to repeat evacuations as huge and unpredictable fires scorched more than 10.3 million hectares of land, an area roughly the size of South Korea.

Here are the key events in the crisis:

  • Of 160 fires ablaze across New South Wales (NSW), about 46 were uncontained. Two were burning at an “emergency level”, eight blazes were in the “watch and act” category, with the rest at the “advice” level, the lowest alert rating.
  • Neighbouring Victoria had 36 fires, with more than 1.3 million hectares burned. Nine fires were at an emergency level.

Gallery: images from across the fire-struck country

  • In the alpine region on the border of the southeastern states of Victoria and New South Wales, two fires were poised to merge and create a blaze over almost 600,000 hectares.
  • Victoria emergency services minister Lisa Neville said some communities had been provided with large containers of satellite phones, baby formula, food, nappies, and torches in case they are cut off.
  • Campaigners protested in Sydney and Melbourne on Friday as part of a wave of demonstrations planned in major world cities, to spotlight concerns about Australia’s climate change policies.
  • Westpac bank estimated total bushfire losses to date at about A$5 billion (HK$263.7 billion), higher than the 2009 bushfires in Victoria but smaller than the Queensland floods in 2010/11. It forecast a loss of 0.2 per cent to 0.5 per cent on gross domestic product.
  • Australia’s alpine resorts have dusted off winter snowmaking machines to blast ice-cold water onto dry ski slopes as fires threaten the Snowy Mountains region.
A snowgun is used at Charlotte Pass, in New South Wales' Snowy Mountains region.
Photo: Fire and Rescue NSW via Reuters
  • The Insurance Council of Australia increased its estimate of damages claims from the fires to more than A$900 million, with claims expected to jump further.
  • Health officials in New South Wales urged extra precautions to avoid heat-related illnesses.
  • Australia’s wildfires have dwarfed other catastrophic blazes, with its burned terrain more than twice the extent of that ravaged this year by fires in Brazil, California and Indonesia combined.
  • Of nine fires in the state of South Australia, one was categorised as an emergency.
  • Climate protests were also planned on Friday in cities such as Canberra and Brisbane, targeting the government’s handling of the crisis and its position on climate change.
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was considering holding a wide-ranging national inquiry into the bushfires after the immediate crisis passed.
  • Just shy of 2,000 homes have been destroyed in New South Wales, state authorities said, half during the past 10 days.
  • Authorities have warned that the huge fires, spurred by high temperatures, wind and a three-year drought, will persist until there is substantial rainfall. The weather agency said there was no sign of that for months.
  • Ecologists at the University of Sydney have estimated 1 billion animals have been killed or injured in the bushfires, potentially destroying ecosystems.

  • Morrison has pledged A$2 billion to a newly created National Bushfire Recovery Agency.
  • About 100 firefighters from the United States and Canada are helping, with another 140 expected in coming weeks.
  • The fires have emitted 400 megatonnes of carbon dioxide and produced harmful pollutants, the European Union’s Copernicus monitoring programme said.
  • Smoke has drifted across the Pacific, affecting cities in South America, and may have reached the Antarctic, the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organisation said.
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