Updated Feb 1, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Australia's deadly fires: What you need to know

In this image, the Australian flag is seen behind a red sky.
The Australian flag flies under red skies from fires on Jan. 4 in Bruthen, Victoria. Photos: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The Orroral Valley fire has burned through nearly 25% of the district that's home to Australia's capital, News.com.au reports, after ACT Emergency Controller Georgeina Whelan said the fire was rapidly growing into the south east on Saturday.

The latest: The Orroral fire grew from 81,544 acres to at least 129,073 acres on Saturday, based on Whelan's initial statement, and ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr's following estimate. Whelan said the Orroral fire is expected to move "well into" New South Wales, which creates potential for it to reach and merge with other bushfires in the area.

"My fire crews may not be able to protect you and your property. You should not expect a firefighter at every door."
— Whelan on Saturday, urging residents to remain vigilant and take action to protect themselves.

The impact: Since September, hundreds of bushfires have raged across Australia, killing at least 33 people — including three U.S. airmen, who died fighting fires when their air tanker crashed in the Snowy Mountains, NSW, last Thursday.

  • Over 1 billion native animals have perished in the blazes, which have destroyed some 2,500 homes and a total land area one-third of the size of California, per Reuters.
  • Three New South Wales firefighters were injured when a tree fell on to their truck while managing a massive fire in the Australian Capital Territory, per the Stawell Times.

Political response: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a news conference Thursday the state would launch a six-month independent inquiry this week to examine the causes of the fires, how prepared the state was and its response, along with contributing factors including climate change.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Jan. 12 of plans for a judicial inquiry into the country's wildfires as he admitted there were "things I could have handled on the ground much better."
  • Morrison has faced criticism over his leadership during the deadly fire season since he went on vacation as much of the country burned in December. He's also been criticized for his government's climate policies.

U.S. support: The American firefighters who died were among several U.S. crews who've been fighting bushfires and assisting with response alongside Australian personnel in New South Wales and Victoria this month, along with the Australian Defense Force and some 3,000 Defense Force Reservists.

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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