Major bush fires continue to burn in Australia garnering worldwide concern. Thus far 24 fatalities have been reported, including three volunteer firefighters, and experts are assuming that entire species of animals and plant life will be wiped out by the fires, according to various media sources and the New York Times. It is being reported that the fires have burned more than 18 million acres of bush, forest and parks, an area larger than Denmark. More than 1,500 homes have been destroyed. There are 146 fires burning and 65 of them are not contained.

Just to give you scale, in 2008, the massive Trabing Fire in Watsonville burned 630 acres, 26 homes and 49 outbuildings and forced the evacuation of 2,000 people. I covered that fire from the start as it raged through one eucalyptus grove after another along Highway 1 and over the ridge into Larkin Valley, inhaling homes, fences and barns and chasing frantic residents and their livestock out of the area like a giant gasoline-soaked broom. It was huge. The ominous brown and orange column of smoke, which loomed over the Pajaro Valley for days, impacted nearly everything, from the media to schools, the Annual Air Show, traffic, electricity and water.

I can’t even start to wrap my mind around 15 million acres of a blackened landscape scattered with dead koala bears, kangaroos and colorful birds. Ecologists from the University of Sydney have speculated that nearly 8,000 koalas, or about 30 percent of their population in that region, have perished.

A major thanks has to go to the team of firefighters from America that landed there the other day with a mountain of experience between them. New Zealand and Canada have also pitched in. The American singer who goes by the name Pink pledged $500,000 directly to fighting the fire. English singer Elton John chimed in with a whopping $1 million donation.

The fires have triggered an explosive thunderstorm called a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, which injects particles as high as 10 miles into the air.  

My long-time friends David and Sheila live in Sydney with their children and have reported the air as being “awful.” They have seriously considered moving because the smoky air has been around for weeks, making everything difficult.

Meanwhile, the country’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, continues to minimize any language regarding climate change and the country’s extreme climate condition. Australia is experiencing its hottest and driest year on record, the Times said. As the fire raged on, Morrison took a vacation to Hawaii last week, showing up in photos wearing a floral shirt and a flowery lei. Huge, angry protests have now cropped up in Australia over his disconnect with the tragedy. Morrison was “forced to leave a meeting with bushfire victims recently in Cobargo, after they began shouting at him and booing,” The Independent news agency wrote.

I watched one recent TV newscast in horror as an Australian man, in blunt delivery, said the rest of the world had no idea “what we are going through.”

More than 2,700 personnel are combating the fires, according to the New South Wakes Rural Fire Service.

“There are a number of large and dangerous fires burning across NSW that pose a serious threat to life,” NSW Rural Fire Service said. “Worsening conditions are forecast for Friday.”

Contact Pajaronian reporter/photographer Tarmo Hannula at [email protected] 

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Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. More recently Good Times & Press Banner. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.


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