While the World was getting ready to celebrate the New Year, Australia is burning down by the worst wildfires seen in decades.

The burnt area is at the size of Belgium. This is the largest fire in Australian history that started from a single burning point.

Australia is always affected by fires during the summer. “Under such circumstances, any fire can become big and out of control,” said an environmental scientist at the Boulder Cooperative Institute at the University of Colorado.

A total of 17 people have died nationwide, and in the state of New South Wales alone, more than 900 houses have been destroyed. State and federal authorities are struggling to contain the massive blazes, even with firefighting assistance from other countries, including the United States.
All wildfires are the result of weather and climate change making natural disasters go from bad to worse.  Australia’s climate has been warming considerably since 1950, according to the Australian Department of the Environment.

Although most Australians do not live in the areas directly affected by the flames, half of Australians cannot escape the smoke of fire, which contains tiny particles of burning vegetation and homes.

These particles are a type of air pollution resulting from fires. Smoke overshadowed the Sydney Opera. “This air pollution is the most dangerous to health,” said an environmental scientist at the Bolder Cooperative Institute.

A fire in Australia’s most populous city, Sydney, has raised air pollution levels 11 times above the danger mark.

The Australian state of New South Wales has declared a state of emergency and people are urged to leave before Saturday when another heatwave is expected across the country. Air temperatures could exceed 40 degrees and strong winds are expected.

The mass evacuation of communities in New South Wales and Victoria is among the largest ever emergency movements of people in Australia. The numbers fleeing the bushfire crisis remain unclear, but are expected to compare to the 60,000 people who were flown out of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy in 1974.

“We have no capacity to contain these fires … the fires are going to do what they are going to do, and people have to get out of that area,” NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said.

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