Australia is burning
January 23, 2020

Three Americans aboard a C-130 Hercules water tanker aircraft died Thursday when their plane crashed in New South Wales, Australia, during a firebombing mission. Coulson Aviation in Oregon said one of its flying tankers was lost in an "extensive" accident after it took off from Richmond, New South Wales, to drop fire retardant on Australia's raging wildfires.

"The only thing I have from the field reports are that the plane came down, it's crashed, and there was a large fireball associated with that crash," said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. "Unfortunately, all we've been able to do is locate the wreckage and the crash site and we have not been able to locate any survivors," and "there is no indication at this stage of what's caused the accident." Coulson said that until the cause of the crash is determined, it has grounded its other firefighting aircraft, removing a powerful tool from the firefighting arsenal in southeastern Australia.

The death of the three U.S. crew members brings the number of fatalities from Australia's wildfires to at least 31 since September. The fires have also scorched an area larger than Indiana and destroyed more than 2,600 homes so far. Peter Weber

January 6, 2020

Australia's wildfires have taken a brutal toll on the country's animals.

While it's not possible to say for sure how many have died, Chris Dickman, an expert on Australian biodiversity at the University of Sydney, was able to calculate generally how many mammals, birds, and reptiles would have been at least affected by the fires. The total falls just below a half billion, but Dickman did say some larger, mobile species like kangaroos and emus would be able to move away from the flames.

Specific numbers aside, though, it's clear the damage to the country's livestock and wildlife has been tragic. The video below — which is disturbing — shows just a small stretch of what's befallen Australia's animals. Tim O'Donnell

January 4, 2020

Things may get worse before they get better in Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison — who has faced heavy criticism for his handling of the situation — announced Saturday that 3,000 reservists from the country's military will be called up to help fight the brush fires that have been spreading during one of Australia's worst wildfire seasons ever. Reservists who are fighting to save their own homes from the fires will be exempt from service, The New York Times reports. The government is also deploying another naval ship to assist with evacuations.

"Volatile" conditions in the southeastern state of New South Wales — where the fires have done serious damage — on Saturday include high winds and temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which will likely exacerbate the flames, BBC reports. The New South Wales fire department is expecting more houses will be lost over the weekend, and New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state had "yet to hit the worst of it."

In total, 23 people have died, as have countless animals, more than 1,300 homes have been destroyed, and tens of thousands of acres of national park and forest land have burned since the fires began in September. Read more at The New York Times and BBC. Tim O'Donnell

January 2, 2020

The Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) declared a weeklong state of emergency on Thursday as raging wildfires forced evacuations all along Australia's eastern coast, including a military-led naval rescue thousands of tourists and residents who fled to the beach in Mallacoota, Victoria. The fires have destroyed at least 281 homes in NSW and 68 in Victoria this week alone, authorities said, and at least eight people have died and 17 are missing in the two states. Since September, the brushfires have killed 18 people and destroyed more than 1,200 homes.

The state of emergency, which starts Friday morning, gives the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) authority to close roads, order mandatory evacuations, and do "anything else we need to do as a state to keep our residents and to keep property safe," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced. "We don't take these decisions lightly but we also want to make sure we're taking every single precaution to be prepared for what could be a horrible day on Saturday."

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance called the push to evacuate tourists from a 155-mile stretch of the scenic southern coast before Saturday the "largest mass relocation of people out of the region that we've ever seen." The Rural Fire Service bluntly told tourists that the coastal area from Batemans Bay to the border with Victoria "is not safe," adding, "Do not be in this area on Saturday." Many of the tourists who complied were promptly stuck in deadlocked traffic. Peter Weber

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