January 9, 2020 / 12:02 PM / 11 days ago

Sizing up Australia's bushfires

(Reuters) - Australia’s bushfires have razed more than 10.3 million hectares (103,000 sq km) of land - the size of South Korea - in recent months, particularly on the east coast.

FILE PHOTO: Koala stands in the field with bushfire burning in the background, in Kangaroo Island, Australia January 9, 2020 in this still image obtained from social media. PAUL STANTON - PAUL'S PLACE WILDLIFE SANCTUARY/via REUTERS /File Photo

The burnt area in New South Wales state alone is more than five times larger than the whole expanse torched last year in Brazil, which saw major fires in the Amazon rainforest.

Combining 2019 fires in California, Brazil and Indonesia still amounts to less than half the burnt area in Australia.

(Click here to see an interactive graphic about the scale of these fires.)

The eastern states of Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria account for 84% of that area, according to figures from their emergency fire services. The majority of fires have occurred in New South Wales state, blanketing Sydney, the continent’s largest city, in smoke for much of December.

Victoria state has seen the worst fires of the past week. Navy warships and military aircraft have been used to evacuate hundreds trapped along the coast, as national parks were decimated.

Further north in Queensland, bushfire season typically starts in August, earlier in the year than New South Wales and Victoria. Here, more sporadic, smaller fires have been noted, as opposed to the mega fires of New South Wales.

Australia’s fires have differed from other catastrophic blazes around the world in 2019, as a selection of its forest species, such as eucalyptus, actually rely on fire to regenerate.

But in terms of pure size, they have dwarfed others.

There are currently eight active fires in New South Wales and Victoria bigger than the largest blaze on record in California, the U.S. state well known for its deadly wildfires.

Firefighters are making the most of a few days of cooler temperatures in the southeast to prepare for the return of heat and wind later this week expected to fan existing blazes and spark new ones.

Reporting by Manas Sharma, Marco Hernandez and Simon Scarr; Editing by Karishma Singh and Andrew Cawthorne

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