Bush fires continue to burn across Australia, taking lives and killing animals

Published: Jan. 9, 2020 at 7:32 PM CST
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The death toll from Australia's worst bush fire season on record has risen to 27, and more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed.

Last year was officially the hottest and driest year on record in Australia, and those conditions have fueled the hundreds of bush fires that have been burning through the region.

And as those fires continue to burn, the smoke is so thick that helicopters were just recently able to get back into the air.

Photos captured this past weekend show an eerie scene of the skies turning dark orange over Australia, something that KSFY Meteorologist Sam Gabrielli says is a natural phenomena that happens more often that you may think.

"Most of the light you see reflected is the color blue, because it is more of a short-wave light. It's more of a long-wave light that is being reflected from those wildfires in Australia, because there are so many smoke particles, so the light being reflected is more of a red-orange tint," Gabrielli said.

Cody Vosburg, with Sioux Falls Fire Rescue, has experienced fighting wildfires in both California and Montana. He says one of the hardest things about fighting wild land fires is having the proper resources.

"Everything from being able to have enough fire engines that show up, personnel, air resources are a big challenge," Vosburg said. "We only have a handful of them available, so they can get spread thin pretty quick."

Vosburg says crews may not always be trying to completely extinguish the blaze, but just contain it from spreading.

"Once they get so big, there is only so much we can do on the ground out in front of these fires," Vosburg said. "Obviously, our number one priority is keeping the public safe, along with keeping ourselves safe, so a lot of times just being able to slow it down can be a big challenge."

But humans aren't the only ones the bush fires have put in danger, more than half a billion animals have already been killed due to the devastation. In part because of the flames, but also from the amount of smoke lingering in the air.

"In the upper levels of the atmosphere there's usually strong levels of wind, and the issue with Australia, why the smoke is tallying up and sitting over the area causing a hazard, is because there is no upper level wind support and strong winds to push all that smoke away," Gabrielli said.

Sioux Falls Fire Rescue says they do not have any plans to send local firefighters to Australia, but that other cities across the country have decided to do that.

The last time U.S. firefighters worked in Australia was in 2010.