Australia resident with Canora connection reflects on impact of wildfires

Mary Anne Davis, sister of Mike Davis of Canora, lives and works as a teacher aide/administration assistant at Nanango State High School in Australia. The country is being devastated by the worst wildfires seen in years, with large areas affected since the start of the fire season in late July.  

It’s been reported that 27 people have died nationwide, and in the state of New South Wales (NSW) alone, more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged. Authorities are struggling to contain the blazes, even with firefighting assistance from other parts of the world, including Saskatchewan.

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All this has been made worse by ongoing heat and drought.

Earlier in December, the smoke was so bad in Sydney that air quality measurements indicated it was 11 times the “hazardous” level.

The fires range from small blazes in isolated buildings or parts of neighborhoods, to massive infernos that occupy numerous acres of land. Some start and are brought under control in a few days, but the biggest blazes have been burning for months.

One of the main causes is that Australia is experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades. The country's Bureau of Meteorology said that last spring was the driest on record. According to reports, a heatwave in December broke the record for highest nationwide average temperature, with the thermometer in some places soaring well above 40 C.

Strong winds have also made the fires and smoke spread more rapidly, and have led to fatalities, including a volunteer firefighter who died after his truck rolled over in high winds.

Experts say climate change is a major cause of natural disasters such as fires and floods. Weather conditions are growing more extreme, and for years, the fires have been starting earlier in the season and spreading with greater intensity.

Davis said the fires in southern Australia are catastrophic, to say the least.

“Southern states (New South Wales and Victoria) are well known for large national parks and because we have had such little rain in this country over the last few years and record breaking temperatures, this catastrophe has taken hold.”

Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, with its vast regions of bush, was one of the hardest hit areas, losing an estimated 25,000 koala bears to the flames.

“The lack of consistent rain and high temperatures for very long periods have made this area a hot spot as well, as you may have heard on the news,” said Davis. “I remember when I first moved to Australia in 1988, we would get hot days with thunderstorms at night, bringing much needed rain. I only recall a couple summers where I had to conserve water because of lack of rain. This was in Central Queensland, where summer temperatures always were in the mid 30’s and higher, often tipping the mid 40’s and up on occasion. This was considered ‘normal.’”

Davis has been living in Kingaroy Queensland, since 1992,

“Although we are very dry and hot, we have not experienced this same issue. We are not really close to any national parks,” explained Davis. “Yes, we have had grass fires and bush fires in this area but no loss of life or severe losses to property. We are indeed fortunate in that way.”

With the fires being so much worse in other regions, Davis said she feels deeply for those experiencing the loss of livelihoods and wildlife.

“I suppose the drought in southern and central Queensland at the moment has the challenge of farmers having to feed cattle and bring in water as dams are drying up quickly,” she said. “Over the last six months, while travelling to work, I have noticed farmers putting cattle out on the road so the animals can graze. “

“The county’s only saving grace will be Mother Nature’s rain.”