More than 2,000 firefighters are working to stop three huge wildfires from turning into one giant “megafire” in Australia.
The fires began last week in the Australian state of New South Wales. Combined, the fires stretch more than 100 miles. Some of the fires are near the country’s capital of Canberra and Sydney, which is Australia’s largest city.
A SURPRISING FIRE
Fire season in this part of Australia usually takes place in the country’s summer, from December to February. Officials are surprised to see such a huge fire in October, when it is still spring in the Southern Hemisphere.
“Never before have we seen the extent of damage and destruction and wide-scale fire activity at this time of the year,” fire commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told the news agency CNN.
Wildfires often start naturally in dry areas, where plants burn easily. This can actually help the environment by burning away old plants so new ones can grow. These fires are called bushfires in Australia, where wild areas with dry plants are called “the bush.” But it is rare for bushfires to grow this large.
CONTAINING A CRISIS
At least 300,000 acres of land have already burned, and more than 200 homes have been destroyed. Within the three wildfires, at least 60 areas are still burning. But officials think the worst may be over.
On Tuesday, emergency crews started their own fire to bring two of the wildfires together in a process called backburning. Officials hope this will change the path of the two fires and keep them from joining a third fire near Sydney. They worry that serious damage could occur if the fires were to gain strength near a large city.
Thousands of people were evacuated (forced to leave) from their homes in areas considered dangerous. More than 250 fire trucks and 90 airplanes have been used to fight the flames.
“Many thousands have been saved by the efforts of our volunteer and other firefighters, who've done a tremendous job for almost a week,” says Barry O’Farrell, Premier of New South Wales.