Every year, patches of Australian forests are consumed by fire, an ecologically necessary process that releases soil nutrients and stimulates plant growth. When the fire season is exacerbated by drought and high temperature, however, the devastation is so great that some citizens are forced to flee their homes. In the most extreme circumstances, natural habitats are ruined completely, even to the point of species extirpation.
This year, these conditions converged in a perfect storm, ravaging large swaths of the Australian continent in dramatic wildfires. The scale of its current bushfire season is unprecedented: Almost 13,000 square kilometres have burned, taking the lives of 29 people and more than 800 million animals.
Increases in the mean average temperature were a contributing factor to the bushfires’ severity, according to Morgan Crowley, a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill.
“Bushfires are normal in Australia, but this fire season [is] exceptionally hot and dry […], which is why it is even longer and [more] dangerous,” Crowley said.