Story at a glance

  • Australia now has a ‘megafire’ more than three times the size of any known blaze in California.
  • Continued hot, dry weather combined with high winds and embers being launched over firebreaks by gusting winds to start new fires made halting the advancing flames nearly impossible for emergency crews.
  • The megafire formed during the night of Jan. 9 when two already large fires merged.

Fires in Australia have incinerated 15 million acres, claimed at least 25 human lives and killed upwards of a billion animals. But the country’s climate change-fueled crisis continues to worsen: Two huge bush fires slammed together Thursday night to form a new “megafire” covering roughly 1.5 million acres — an area about the size of Delaware, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Hot, dry and windy weather fanned the flames of the two fires in Australia’s already scorched southeast. The winds, gusting to 55 miles per hour, sent glowing embers streaming out ahead of the advancing flames, starting new fires that were sometimes beyond firebreaks created by emergency crews. 

“What we’re really seeing with a number of these fires merging is a number of small fires started by lightning strikes, across the landscape,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service spokesman Anthony Clark told the Sydney Morning Herald. “And as they grow, we see fires merging.”

The new megafire is more than three times the size of any fire ever recorded in California. Smoke from the 147 fires burning in New South Wales alone has entered the lower stratosphere and drifted as far as Chile, according to NASA.

Meanwhile in Sydney, more than 30,000 took to the streets in protest of the government’s inaction on climate change. The coalition government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously denied any link between climate change and the raging fires. 

But this could be changing, as this week the prime minister said Australia would launch an investigation into the potential relationship between the fires and climate change. 

Friday, when a reporter asked Prime Minister Morrison if he expected climate change to make crises like the current bushfires the new normal for Australia, he replied: "The links and implications here have been acknowledged."

Published on Jan 10, 2020