Australia: the wind causes the junction of two huge braziers in the south-east
Two gigantic fires, under the effect of the winds, merged on Friday in the south-east of Australia into a brazier which has already destroyed an area 55 times larger than Paris, while thousands of people demonstrated to demand acts against global warming.
“Conditions are tough today,” rural New South Wales fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters. “The hot, dry winds are the real challenge again.”
Authorities have been dreading for several days today the arrival of a new catastrophic heat wave in a country plagued since September by a catastrophic forest fire crisis.
As expected, the mercury exceeded Friday 40 degrees in the states of Victoria and New South Wales, and concern was now focused on a “mega-fire” born Friday afternoon from the junction of two fires.
This single blaze has reduced an area of more than 6,000 km 2 to ashes , more than 55 times the size of Paris.
Refugees on the pier
The “state of natural disaster” had been extended by 48 hours in anticipation of this new heat wave, which occurred after a few days of temperatures more favorable to the fight against fires.
And evacuation orders had been issued in the border areas of New South Wales and Victoria.
The Premier of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, has reported more than 130 active fires in her state, including around 50 out of control.
The situation was particularly serious on Kangaroo Island, in the south of South Australia, whose main locality, Kingscote, was cut off from the rest of the world by gigantic braziers.
Many residents took refuge near the pier while waiting for a road to be passable again.
Particularly precocious and virulent, the fire season has already killed 26 people in Australia, reduced to ashes a total area of 100,000 km 2 – which is larger than South Korea or Portugal – and destroyed more than 2,000 houses.
“Change the policy”
The current disaster is also ecological. At the end of a study, Professor Chris Dickman, of the University of Sydney, estimated in a statement published Monday that a billion animals had died, a figure that includes mammals, birds and reptiles, but not insects or invertebrates.
Linked to a particularly severe drought in Australia, these fires are further aggravated by global warming, while scientists have long predicted that the recurrence of these extreme weather events will only get worse.
2019 has been the warmest and driest year in Australia since the surveys began. December 18 was the warmest day ever, with a national average of maximum temperatures measured at 41.9 ° C.
Thousands of people in Sydney and Melbourne demonstrated again to demand that the Australian Conservative government do more to fight global warming and end its unconditional support for the coal industry, which has made a huge contribution to the economic development of the country, but which however has a poor environmental footprint.
“Change the policy, not the climate,” read a banner, reflecting an increasingly popular view of the cause of the fires.
Researchers have observed that the current crisis has given rise to a disinformation campaign “unprecedented” in the history of the country, with “bots” (computer programs that automatically send messages) deployed to defend the idea that fires are not related to global warming.
The hashtag #arsonemergency (“arson attack”) is used in particular as force, while conservative media, websites and politicians around the world defend the idea that the fires are in fact criminal.
Timothy Graham, a digital media expert at Queensland University of Technology, told AFP that according to his research, half of the Twitter accounts using this hashtag appear to behave like “bots” or “trolls,” those Internet users posting intentionally provocative messages.
“Our findings reveal a concerted effort to educate the public about the causes of forest fires,” said Graham.
“This campaign is without comparison in its scope with what we have seen in other countries, such as during the American presidential election in 2016, but this level of disinformation in Australia is unprecedented.”
Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday tried to dodge the question when journalists asked him if the severity of these fires would become the norm due to global warming.
“Look, we’ve talked about this many times already,” he swept aside, saying that assessments would take place after the fire season is over.