Eden: Thousands of people fled their homes and helicopters dropped supplies to towns at risk of nearby wildfires as hot, windy conditions Friday threatened already fire-ravaged southeastern Australian communities.
The danger is centered on New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s most populous states, where temperatures and wind speeds are escalating after a few days of relatively benign conditions.
In neighboring Victoria, evacuation orders were issued in alpine areas, and Premier Daniel Andrews pleaded with residents to heed alerts and avoid complacency even though no fresh destruction was being reported.
“Despite this unprecedented fire activity, we have nobody who is unaccounted for, we have no further people who have died, and we have no further communities who have been cut off,” Andrews told reporters. “Now, all of those things can change and that is perhaps the most powerful reminder that we have to remain vigilant. Please, listen to the warnings and do as you are asked. If you are told to leave a community, and you can leave, then you should leave.”
The unprecedented fire crisis in southeast Australia has claimed at least 26 lives, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland since September.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Australian military was on standby to help firefighters and emergency agencies.
The military has already been involved in the unfolding crisis by clearing roads closed by fallen trees, burying dead cattle and sheep and providing fodder to surviving livestock.
The conservation group WWF-Australia estimates that 1.25 billion wild animals had died during the current fire crisis in addition to livestock losses, which the government expects will exceed 100,000 animals.
WWF fears the disasters could lead to local extinctions and threaten the survival of some species, such as the glossy black-cockatoo and a knee-high kangaroo known as the long-footed potoroo.
WWF conservation scientist Stuart Blanch described the estimate as conservative, and it did not include bats, frogs and insects.
The majority of estimated losses were reptiles, followed by birds, then mammals such as koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas and wombats.
“Kangaroos can get away from fires. But a lot get burnt to a crisp stuck in a fence,” Blanch said.
WWF estimates there were between 100,000 and 200,000 koalas across Australia before the fire season. Estimated koala losses in the current emergency include 25,000 on Kangaroo Island off southern Australia and 8,000 in northwest New South Wales.
“It’s a significant loss, but I don’t think we’ll know for several months,” Blanch said of the koala deaths....