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Australia is battling one of its worst brushfire seasons in recent memory. There are more than 200 fires burning. The fires started in September and have been fueled by record-breaking temperatures and severe drought.

“Climate change is exacerbating every risk factor for more frequent and intense bushfires,” Dale Dominey-Howes, an expert on disaster risk at the University of Sydney, told Business Insider Australia. “Widespread drought conditions, higher than average temperatures—these are all made worse by climate change.”

The fires are burning mostly along stretches of the eastern and southern coast of Australia, where most of the population lives. There are different estimates about how much damage has been done so far, but since the fires started, they have burned between 12 and 15 million acres. This is significantly more than what burned in the Amazon rainforest last summer and fall.

Australia map fire location

Fact Box:

• Australia has a population of 25 million people

• It’s the sixth-largest country in the world

• Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world

Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes in the last few months. More than 1,500 homes have been destroyed in the fires. Six people are missing and 23 have been killed.

Additionally, one study estimated that nearly 500 million animals have died in the fires. Australia is home to 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity­—animal and plant varieties. Some of the most famous inhabitants include kangaroos, koalas, wombats, and dingos. Scientists are worried that some species and subspecies may be devastated and unable to recover.

“Wildfires have been a part of the Earth’s ecosystem since there was plant material to burn,” says Camille Stevens-Rumann, an ecologist at Colorado State University. She told NBC News, “We’re all adapted to a certain amount of disturbance. I can get a certain number of colds per year and be OK, but if I’m sick for eight months in a row, that’s really going to wear on me. That’s the same thing with an ecosystem.”

January 2020