Extreme fire conditions in Victoria, a large state in southwestern Australia, have led officials to advise residents to evacuate.
Citizens along the coast are especially vulnerable with temperatures set to rise over the next several days. Temperatures could reach more than 110ºF (43.33ºC). With extremely dry conditions in many areas, the threat of expanded bushfires is high.
Andrew Crisp, Victoria’s emergency management commissioner, makes the threat posed by the heatwave clear: “We’re expecting a significant increase in fire activity tomorrow. The Premier has extended the State of Disaster for another 48 hours. If you are in fire-affected parts of North East Victoria or East Gippsland, you need to leave these areas while you still can,” he said in a tweet on January 8.
Misinformation and its impact
Earlier this week, the New South Wales (NSW) Police Force announced that legal action was taken against 183 people for bushfire-related offenses since November 2019. From this group, 24 people were charged with allegedly deliberately lighting bushfires.
Now, climate change deniers are using this to argue that the fires have little to do with rising temperatures and drought. Experts, however, say that there is little evidence that the actions of a few dozen arsonists are to blame.
Richie Merzian, the director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Australia Institute, a public policy think tank, says claims of arson are being used to distract the public from the real cause of the fires. “The number of arsonists this summer [is] not higher than usual – the only thing that has changed is the disinformation campaign to elevate this as [a] key cause to explain the unprecedented bush fires,” he said.
Volunteers are ready
Despite this, many are coming together to help. In NSW, a 72,000-strong volunteer firefighting force is acting as a crucial line of defense – the NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS). Established in 1953, it is the world’s largest volunteer fire service.
“But there are a lot of people out here who are self-employed, and running their own businesses, and they’re giving up thousands and thousands of dollars in lost income,” says Gary Creer, a local volunteer with 20 years’ experience in the organization. “They helped us steer this fire around the whole of the bay and basin area, and kept it going north, and kept us safe.”