The Australian bushfire season occurs annually during the driest and hottest parts of the year, leading to fires throughout the country. However, the current season, which began in the fall, is one of the worst in recent history.
More than 150 wildfires continue to burn across Australia in its third year of drought. The fires have charred more than 12 million acres of land across the country, destroying over 2,000 homes, and have killed at least 24 people, according to ABC News. These fires may continue unless Australia receives sufficient, heavy rainfall.
Almost half a billion animals have been affected by the fires, including Australia’s native koala and kangaroo species, according to CNN. Some species face permanent extinction since the fires affect entire wildlife populations.
The Sydney Former Student Club has about 20 to 30 Aggies living in the Sydney, Australia, area who have been keeping in touch to discuss ways to help the Australian farming communities. Ronda Fethers, Class of 1994, who has lived in Sydney for 20 years and said she has never seen anything like this on such a large scale.
“I think this is the most catastrophic thing I’ve ever been exposed to,” Fethers said. “The devastation has just been on an incredible scale. Just hundreds and hundreds of miles of land that have been burned.”
Fethers’ daughter’s grandparents live in Eden, Australia, and were forced to evacuate their house at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 11 as the fire came directly up from the South Victorian border. After spending three days at a country club two towns away, the couple was able to return home where they found their house entirely covered in soot but still standing. Fethers said they expect to evacuate from their home again within the next few days.
“I have no communication when it happens,” Fethers said. “You can’t check on them, and they often don’t have battery backups on their phones.”
The fires have severely damaged major infrastructure across Australia. Several towns with populations between 30,000 and 50,000 no longer have electricity or other means of communication. Fuel stations have emptied in some rural communities, leaving people stranded and unable to escape the fire when it comes.
Land, crops and livestock have been severely damaged by the fires. Fethers said many farms are unable to get feed for their livestock. Farmers are often forced to dump their cattle’s milk onto the ground. With a lack of feed and the polluted air, cattle are becoming too exhausted to move to a safer place.
“My daughter and I had pulled over to this small-town fuel station, and you could hear these ‘pops’ in the background,” Fethers said. “The man at the fuel pump next to me said it was gunshots from farmers killing their livestock humanely so they wouldn’t be burned to death.”
Leslie Miller, Class of 1996, has been volunteering with the nonprofit organization BlazeAid, which helps farmers by repairing fences burned by the fires. The organization has been running for 11 years and has set up 10 camps around Australia for volunteer work, Miller said.
“It’s a huge help for the farmers, and it’s a morale boost as well,” Miller said. “The farmers were incredibly hospitable ... and you just realized what they’re facing.”
Anyone 18 and older can volunteer for BlazeAid, and the Sydney Former Student Club urges any and all Aggies who want to help to donate their time or money to nonprofit organizations like BlazeAid, RuralAid and The Mulloon Institute.