Australia has been in a state of hazardous fires and air quality since September, taking over 17.9 million acres of land across Australia’s six states.
According to a report by CNN, 28 people have died, and an estimated one billion animals have been lost or reported dead. Additionally, an estimated 2,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged.
Australia is known for its hot and dry summer seasons, which contribute greatly to the fire season they are currently experiencing. Since November, the Australian police have charged at least 200 people for arson or fire-related offenses.
Dr. Jacob Lanphere, professor of environmental science, said the fires mainly raise an issue for the animals and people in the surrounding area.
“Immediately and during the fire, the air quality is an issue with particulate matter in the atmosphere at a high concentration which could cause health problems for people who are sensitive to these issues,” Lanphere said. “Long term — the environment will grow back fairly quickly, the plants, the trees. However, they may have some problems with invasive species taking over the area at a rapid pace.”
Lanphere also highlighted the importance of local zoos and conservation efforts to help protect and rehabilitate wildlife and habitats.
“A lot of people look down on zoos because they hold animals, but zoos do a lot of good things to help keep animals from going extinct,” Lanphere said.
California Baptist University students who call Australia home have had to watch the devastation unfold from afar.
“It’s been quite a helpless feeling knowing you’re on the other side of the world and unable to help,” said Georgie Dale, junior marketing major and Australia native. “It’s awful seeing local communities and places going down in flames. Australia is a nation that genuinely cares and feels everything that goes on so it’s quite devastating for all”
Lanphere hopes the fires will encourage people to understand the need to preserve the forests.
“Restoration is going to require people putting plants in the ground, cleaning up debris, and forest management,” Lanphere said. “It will never be back to the way it was; it could take 10–100 years to be restored.”
“It’s not just the land that’s been damaged, but there’s homes and families so the rebuilding and reconstructions will take many years,” Dale said.
“The most difficult thing is seeing all of the wildlife starting to disintegrate and all of the homes being destroyed” Gracie Champion, freshman liberal studies major and Australian native, said. “It’s hard watching this happen from the other side of the world, and not being able to do much to help.”
Both Dale and Champion urged students to spread awareness or donate to a relief organization such as WWF – Australia at https://donate.wwf.org.au/donate.