Record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought have set-off a series of massive bushfires across Australia.
While the rain has brought some respite to the thousands of firefighters and volunteers who have been tackling over 200 blazes since September, the fires have intensified over the past week, with a number towns evacuated.
At least 6.3 million hectares of Australia have burned in one of the country’s worst fire seasons on record. At least 27 people have so far been killed - including three volunteer firefighters.
An estimated 1 billion animals have been lost, and scientists fear long-term damage to many sensitive ecosystems.
Celebrities pledge huge sums to help
Formula 1 driver, Lewis Hamilton says he will donate more than £380,000 to support the fire service and animal welfare charities affected by fires in Australia.
The world champion pledged $500,000 and says he "can't help but grieve for the defenceless animals thought to have died" in the fires.
US singer Pink, Australian pop star Kylie Minogue, Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman, British singer Elton John and Australian actor Chris Hemsworth are among those who have made major donations.
The fires started in multiple ways: some by lightning, some by human actions, including arson. However, it is said that climate conditions are a contributing factor to the crisis.
Climate change on the rise, with Australia’s leaders 'under fire'
The country is up in arms and very frustrated with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, over what many view as a ‘nonchalant response’ to the disastrous blazes and his unremitting dismissal of climate change.
The Prime Minister has rejected criticism of the Coalition’s climate change policies, as a growing number of MPs privately concede that the government needs to do more to match the rising tide of concern over the issue.
Before the fires began, Australia was already enduring its hottest and driest year on record.
Morrison said that fire authorities were “well-prepared, well-organised and well-resourced” but governments, fire crews and communities needed to be realistic and understand that some blazes would not be able to be stopped.
“These fire conditions are unprecedented and the challenge is formidable,” he said.
Morrison warned that, with no substantial rain forecast, the fires could burn for weeks, beyond the capability of fire crews to control or extinguish.
Australia is one of the great ‘biodiversity hotspots’ in the world. The island continent was isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years, allowing evolution to take strange new paths, and it is suggested, that until recently, with little human influence.
Wildfires have become a natural part of the ecosystem in Australia. Many plants and other organisms even depend on regular blazes to germinate, cycle nutrients, and clear decay. However, the climate is getting hotter due to human activities, meaning that extra heat is making fires more likely.
According to Australia’s science research agency, CSIRO around 244 species of mammals are found only in Australia. Before the fires, its great diversity of life was already threatened due to invasive species, habitat destruction, and climate change.