Devastating bushfires have been ravaging parts of the Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria since November 2019.
By early January 2020, the fires had consumed close to 6 million hectares of land, destroyed almost 2,000 buildings and claimed the lives of at least 20 people, with many more reported missing.
A Kangaroo rushes past a burning house in the popular tourist area of Lake Conjola, NSW, where bushfires are raging. Australia, 31 December 2019 © Matthew Abbott/Panos Pictures
While wild fires are a regular occurrence in Australia, this year’s inferno is unprecedented in ferocity, range and deadliness. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes in south eastern New South Wales and northern Victoria as the wall of fire approaches rural communities and a ‘State of Disaster’ has been declared in the state of Victoria, giving police the power to force people to evacuate.
Further afield, fires in South Australia are starting to cause extensive damage to property and the main highway into the state of Western Australia has been cut off. The haze from bushfires has caused air quality in cities like Melbourne and Sydney to plummet to dangerous levels.
Fires burn in the village of Balmoral, NSW, Australia. December 2019. © Matthew Abbott/Panos Pictures
Firefighters battle a blaze near the community of Orangeville in New South Wales, Australia. December 2019. © Matthew Abbott/Panos Pictures
The remains of a house that has burned to the ground in a wildfire southwest of Syndey, NSW, Australia. © Matthew Abbott/Panos Pictures
This bout of fires is widely being blamed on climate change, coming at the end of one of the worst droughts in Australia in decades. The ferocity of the fires at this early stage of the annual fire season is also a worrying sign of things to come, with some of the hottest weather of the year yet to come in January and February. In December 2019, Australia recorded the highest nationwide average temperature. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under fire for the lack of action on climate change enacted by his Liberal government.
A man stands in his front garden as flames spread from the Green Wattle Creek fire, just south-west of Sydney, NSW. December 2019. © Matthew Abbott/Panos Pictures
A firefighting Boeing 737 aircraft leased by the Rural Fire Service (RFS) drops fire retardent on the edge of the Hill Top community near Sydney, NSW. © Matthew Abbott/Panos Pictures
Silvia Rowort and granddaughter Estelle Mcleod fill buckets with water to help put out spot fires on their property. Hillville, NSW, Australia. © Matthew Abbott/Panos Pictures
Panos photographer Matthew Abbott has been covering the fires over the past weeks.
click here for a large edit of images.
Fire rages through an area of forest as weather conditions in New South Wales have driven the spread of the fire. Hillville, NSW, Australia. © Matthew Abbott/Panos Pictures
A firefighter points his hose at burning trees and shrubs southwest of Sydney, NSW, Australia. © Matthew Abbott/Panos Pictures
The sun is obscured by thick smoke as the Green Wattle Creek fire, just south-west of Sydney, burns at an emergency level and threatens lives and homes. Australia. Dec 2019. © Matthew Abbott/Panos Pictures