5 Images That Show the Devastating Scale of the Australia Bushfires

Data visualizations of the bush fires in Australia paint a stark picture.
Chris Young
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The Australia bushfires have been raging since September and are the worst in the country's history, taking people's lives, killing wildlife, and destroying people's property.

For anyone not experiencing the blazes firsthand, it might be difficult to comprehend the scale of the fires, which have forced thousands to evacuate to Australia's coastlines.

Comparison can help to put such a catastrophic situation into perspective. These 5 visualizations illustrate the scale of what is currently happening in Australia.


1. From Minneapolis to San Diego

That's how far-ranging the effects of the smoke would be if the fires were taking place in the U.S.

The green in the visualization below represents the area affected by fire, while the blue circle represents the area that is affected by smoke and ash spread by the fire.

5 Images That Show the Devastating Scale of the Australia Bushfires
Source: Grohlier/Reddit

As Metro points out, authorities in Australia report that 381 homes were destroyed in New South Wales this week. In New South Wales and Victoria, meanwhile, there are still over 200 fires burning.

Last week, a cloud of ash from the fires spread over 4,020 kilometers (2,500 miles) to New Zealand. The fires in Australia have been exacerbated by strong winds and temperatures of 40C. On top of the difficult conditions, firefighters are being deployed over huge areas affected by the fire, making their efforts less effective.

2. From Oslo to Algiers

The same distance in Europe would take you from Norway or Scotland to Africa. The enormous expanse of the area affected has led to thousands being left homeless and half a billion animals being killed.

5 Images That Show the Devastating Scale of the Australia Bushfires
Source: Neil R Kaye/Reddit

In fact, as The Independent reports, whole species might go extinct due to the bushfires.

The area affected is so large that ash is settling on glaciers in New Zealand, causing them to melt faster, as per The Guardian.

The video above shows how the top of the Tasman glacier in New Zealand, over 4,000 kilometers away from Australia, has been tinged brown by smoke from the fires.

3. Entire European countries would be covered in fire

The area affected by smoke is enormous, but that's doesn't mean that the area burnt by the fire is not frightening itself.

The fire would entirely cover Belgium, Wales, and large parts of England and Ireland, as can be seen in the visualization above.

5 Images That Show the Devastating Scale of the Australia Bushfires
Source: Nick-SBS/Reddit

In fact, an entire community in Australia has been practically wiped out by the fires.

As the BBC reports, the leader of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, says "catastrophic" fire conditions have almost completely destroyed the town of Balmoral, southwest of Sydney. One resident hid inside a kiln at his home while the fire burnt through his property.

4. How the fires have progressed since October

Comparing the fires to how they were a few months ago, also helps to give a strong idea of the extent of the devastation.

The fires, which started in the state of New South Wales, have been spreading since September.

Progression of bush fires near Sudney, Australia, since October 28th from r/dataisbeautiful

It wasn't until the end of October however, that the situation truly went out of control. The state is currently under a 7-day state of emergency. It is the third time Australia has declared a state of emergency in as many months.

By declaring a state of emergency, the country gives emergency services the power to close and open roads when they deem it necessary. They can also forcibly evacuate members of the public.

5. This isn't business as usual

The bushfires of 2019 were caused by abnormal conditions, including drought and record high temperatures, which are worsened by the effects of climate change, Time Magazine reports.

The visuals below show just how bad the ongoing fires are compared to recent years. Though forest fires are common in Australia — a period of the summer is even designated 'bushfire season' — the extent of the fires seen over the last few months is unprecedented.

5 Images That Show the Devastating Scale of the Australia Bushfires
Source: Luckayy Lucario/Reddit

As Australia's Bureau of Meteorology says, "Climate change is influencing the frequency and severity of dangerous bushfire conditions in Australia and other regions of the world."

Peter Thorne, a climate change expert at Maynooth University in Ireland, told Time Magazine that "Climate change is a likely factor. It’s changing the odds because it’s hotter and is drier on average in the summer in Australia."

Unfortunately, summer temperatures usually peak in Australia around February time, so the worst of the bushfires may be still to come. As CNN reports, Australia could be months away from seeing the end of this crisis.

5 Images That Show the Devastating Scale of the Australia Bushfires
The forest fires raging over Mount Solitary, New South Wales, Source: lovleah/iStock

Photographs can, of course, also show us just how bad things are. As can be seen in the image above, the billowing smoke from the raging forest fires has made Mount Solitary in the Blue Mountains National Park look like an erupting volcano.

The effect of the fire and the smoke can be felt far and wide. Here's hoping those affected by the fires stay safe and that the flames are soon brought under control by the brave firefighters out there now battling the elements.

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