The wildfires ravaging Australia have devastated the country for months. Here are some key facts on the fires, culled from the Associated Press, CNN and government authorities.
Timeline -- The fire season began in the South Pacific country in late July, and 24 people have died nationwide, CNN reported Tuesday morning. More than 2,000 homes have been destroyed by the blazes, which have scorched an area twice the size of Maryland, according to a Monday report from the AP. The wildfire season generally lasts through March, the AP said.
Current fires -- The AP reported Monday that more than 135 fires were still burning across New South Wales, including almost 70 that were not contained. Nearly 18 million acres have been torched, according to CNN.
Location -- The fires have hit every Australian state, with New South Wales bearing the brunt of the damage, CNN reported. But large cities haven’t been immune; CNN reported that fires have damaged homes in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney and that thick plumes of smoke have choked Sydney’s urban center, where air quality was 11 times the hazardous level in early December.
Animal casualties -- One CNN report posted Tuesday, citing ecologists at the University of Sydney, said millions of animals may have died in the fires, including birds, reptiles and mammals. In a statement Friday, the university said about 480 million animals have been killed in New South Wales since September. In addition, CNN, citing Sydney researchers, could climb as high as 1 billion.
“Many of the affected animals are likely to have been killed directly by the fires, with others succumbing later due to the depletion of food and shelter resources and predation from introduced feral cats and red foxes,” the statement said.
What’s being done -- Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office said Monday in a statement that the federal government was establishing “a new agency with an initial $2 billion for a national bushfire recovery fund to coordinate a national response to rebuild communities and livelihoods after the devastating fire-front has passed.”
According to the statement, “the National Bushfire Recovery Agency would be funded with an initial $2 billion to ensure the families, farmers and business owners hit by these unprecedented bushfires would get the support they needed as they recover.”
Other items of note -- Morrison told reporters during a Monday news conference that “24 fatalities have been reported across the country. [Eighteen] of those in New South Wales, three in Victoria, three in South Australia," according to a transcript. "Two people are missing in New South Wales. And none, we believe, are now missing in Victoria.”
Morrison added that “3,872 head of livestock have been euthanized or confirmed deceased. 400 tonnes of fodder is in transit with distribution points finalized for Cooma, Bega, Moruya and Milton which will be set up once fireground activity eases. ... Disaster relief payments, as it stands, $111 million or thereabouts, over $100 million, which includes $25 million already out the door in disaster assistance payments and just over $100 million in total combined with that that have already been committed.”