An area the size of Belgium is burning in Australia as the bushfire crisis deepens – and officials warn it could get even worse.
Eight people have died and 18 are missing, authorities said today, and nearly half a billion animals are feared to have died.
Firefighters are currently battling a firefront stretching thousands of miles – long enough to reach Afghanistan from Australia, experts believe.
Scientists say nearly half a billion animals have died in the devastating blazes, with smoke causing people breathing problems in New Zealand – more than 1,600 miles away.
More than 200 fires are burning across the southeastern states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, threatening several towns.
Around three million hectares of land has burned in the weeks since catastrophic bushfires started in November.
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
The NSW state government declared a state of emergency, beginning on Friday, giving authorities the power to forcibly evacuate people and take control of services.
Cafe owner Michelle Roberts, from Mallacoota, where 4,000 people have been stranded on a beach since Monday, told Reuters: “It is hell on earth. It is the worst anybody’s ever seen.”
Authorities urged a mass exodus from several towns on the southeast coast, an area popular with tourists during the summer holiday season, warning that extreme heat forecast for the weekend will further stoke the fires.
Eight people have been killed by wildfires in NSW and Victoria since Monday and 18 are missing, officials said on Thursday.
(Image: Getty Images)
Temperatures are forecast to soar above 40C along the south coast on Saturday, bringing the prospect of renewed firefronts to add to the around 200 current blazes.
“It is going to be a very dangerous day. It’s going to be a very difficult day,” NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
(Image: New York Times / Redux / eyevine)
Thousands of volunteer firefighters have had to take time off work to protect their communities, or are or are losing out on unemployment payments.
Today Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison finally relented to calls for payments to be given to volunteers.
He had previously described the idea as a distraction, but has faced a huge backlash from people affected by the fires.