Fires are more frequent, more damaging, and more terrifying – a symptom of the new age that I call the Pyrocene
Steve Pyne is an emeritus professor at Arizona State University, and the author of Burning Bush: A Fire History of Australia and most recently the second edition of Fire: A Brief History
Australia is a fire continent. Imagine California on the scale of the 48 contiguous states, but drier, more routinely kindled and with winds that can transform large swathes of land into a veritable fire flume. From time to time, its simmering flames boil over into seeming tsunamis of fire.
And Australia has a culture to match. It has institutions to study, fight and light fire. It has a literature of fire, a folklore of fire and a fire art that is continuous from Indigenous bark paintings to modernist musings. It has special bushfire collections at its museums. It has a fire politics: on three occasions conflagrations have sparked royal commissions, and from 2009 to 2017, 51 official inquiries.
The worst fires have acquired names and become historical milestones, such as Red Tuesday (1898), Ash Wednesday (1983), Black Christmas (2001), Black Saturday (2009).
Now they are joined by the as-yet unnamed megafires of 2019-20. Call them the Forever fires, for they seem inextinguishable, burning with implacable insistence and smoke palls that extend their reach far beyond the flames’ grasp.
Yes, Australia and bushfire are old acquaintances. But the past 20 years feel different. The bad fires are more frequent, more eruptive and more damaging. The Black Saturday fires, which killed 173 people, struck with the cultural force of a terrorist attack, and seemed to call into question the very premises of a “first world” society on a land capable of such fury. The Forever bushfires deepen that query.
Australia’s south-east devastated by fires that have left nine people dead and hundreds of homes destroyed since Christmas
Wed 1 Jan 2020 07.44 GMT
I am a climate scientist on holiday in the Blue Mountains, watching climate change in action
Wed 1 Jan 2020 19.00 GMT Last modified on Wed 1 Jan 2020 23.40 GMT
After years studying the climate, my work has brought me to Sydney where I’m studying the linkages between climate change and extreme weather events.
Prior to beginning my sabbatical stay in Sydney, I took the opportunity this holiday season to vacation in Australia with my family. We went to see the Great Barrier Reef – one of the great wonders of this planet – while we still can. Subject to the twin assaults of warming-caused bleaching and ocean acidification, it will be gone in a matter of decades in the absence of a dramatic reduction in global carbon emissions.
We also travelled to the Blue Mountains, another of Australia’s natural wonders, known for its lush temperate rainforests, majestic cliffs and rock formations and panoramic vistas that challenge any the world has to offer. It too is now threatened by climate change.
At least 15 people are now believed to have died, while scores remain missing
The Associated Press · Posted: Jan 01, 2020 8:28 AM ET | Last Updated: 30 minutes ago
Australia deployed military ships and aircraft Wednesday to help communities ravaged by deadly wildfires that have sent thousands of residents and tourists fleeing to the shoreline.
Authorities have urged a mass exodus from several towns on Australia’s southeast coast, an area that is hugely popular in the current summer peak holiday season, warning that extreme heat forecast for the weekend will further stoke raging fires.
“It is vital, critical,” New South Wales Transport Minister Andrew Constance said on Australian Broadcasting Corporation television. “We need everybody to leave. We are going to face a worse day on Saturday than what we have been through.”
Navy ships and military aircraft were bringing water, food and fuel to towns where supplies were depleted and roads were cut off by the fires. Authorities confirmed three bodies were found Wednesday at Lake Conjola on the south coast of New South Wales, bringing the death toll in the state to at least 15.
More than 175 homes have been destroyed in the region.