Wildfires scorched almost every continent in 2019, but the ongoing wildfires in Australia have caused unprecedented damage.
As fires have blanketed more than 12 million acres of land in Australia, killing at least 20 people and leveling more than 1,000 homes, tens of thousands of people have evacuated to safer ground while many are missing. On Thursday, the Australian state of New South Wales — which includes Sydney, the country’s largest city — declared its third state of emergency since November, and experts say the flames are getting worse. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service issued a fire spread prediction map that shows where the flames are projected to expand over the weekend as weather conditions deteriorate.
A record-breaking heatwave and ongoing drought caused by extreme temperature patterns in the Indian Ocean — all connected to climate change — created the conditions allowing these exceptionally intense wildfires to thrive. For those of us outside of Australia, photos of blood-orange skies, thick gray smoke, and people fleeing for their lives offer a small but devastating glimpse at the first major climate catastrophe of the 2020s.
This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Red sky, flying embers: Australia’s fires are the first climate disaster of the decade on Jan 3, 2020.