Australia Continues To Battle The Raging Bushfires

News continues to develop as the bushfires in Australia rage on. New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria have been declared as in a state of emergency and disaster, and are expected to remain in that state for at least another week. As of the fourth of January, 28 people have been confirmed dead and 28 still unaccounted for. The loss of life for both humans and wildlife, the sheer devastation and spread of the destruction, and the vigorous labour of firefighters cannot be understated at this time. Thousands of firefighters have been battling the blazes since they began months earlier, and while their work has been valuable and heroic, the fires have only grown in ferocity. Evacuations are well underway in several areas in N.S.W., Victoria and Kangaroo Island. Australian troops are evacuating many areas by boat now, as roads in many areas have become inaccessible. Those already on beaches or by bodies of water—the case for hundreds of Australians—will likely be evacuated by boat; those not there by now may find it is too late to leave and are being advised to find shelter where they can and wait out the blazes. Emergency teams, firefighters and the Australian governments are urging those in evacuation areas to leave while they can if they can. The top priority at the moment is to preserve life.

In regards to the evacuations, New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklia stated: “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.” Press conferences and updated reports continue to be released as new information becomes available, particularly from the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Morrison has publicly thanked the outpouring support and effort from those helping the immediate situation, and those around the world who have sent donations. In a recent statement, Morrison addressed the rarity of fires of this velocity saying, “this length of season is, of course, in many senses, unprecedented, but the ferocity and the absence of dousing rains that would normally bring a season like this under greater control is nowhere in sight and so that means a much longer season is planned for.”

Morrison has come under heavy criticism about his leadership in this disaster situation. Many feel as though they have looked to Morrison for reassurance and have been met with unsatisfying leadership. Much of this criticism is over the miscommunication that led to 3000 reserve troops were deployed without authorization. Although, Morrison has stated that this issue came from a breakdown in communication amongst defence personnel, rather than his poor leadership. He has also apologized to the NSW Rural Fire Service Chief, Shane Fitzsimmons, for the confusion. Criticism has also mounted over the lack of urgency felt from Morrison. When asked at what point people should be panicked about the extremity of the fires he responded that, “they are natural disasters. They wreak this sort of havoc when they affect our country and they have for a very long time. The best way to respond is the way the Australians have always responded, and that is by trusting those who are fighting the fires.” Morrison also has stated he believes the emissions reductions policies already in place, “will both protect our environment and seek to reduce the risk of a hazard we are seeing today.” Morrison also stated he doesn’t believe that there is any single policy that could prevent future fires. In a world we are faced with today where we are looking to leaders to do more to protect the environment, this certainly isn’t what the people wanted to hear. 

These fires are expected to continue for several weeks, if not months, despite the weather calming down. Donations continue to food Australia, and the international community will be standing beside Australia during this distressing time.