The five: risks posed by wildfires | Technology


Endangerment of species

The Australian Koala Foundation has declared koalas to be “functionally extinct”, after fears of 2,000 of them being killed as more than 100 bushfires struck south-eastern Australia. However, the claim has been criticised since there are still an estimated 15,000-28,000 koalas in New South Wales. Even so, it is believed that the species will be extinct by 2050 if its habitat is continually undermined.

Fresh water threatened

According to the United States Geological Survey, 80% of the country’s fresh water is sourced from forested land, meaning that the effect of wildfires in certain areas could be disastrous, not only for drinking water, but also for aquatic habitats. After the wildfires in Colorado in September, the Animas River experienced an 80% decline in its fish population.





German tourists wearing face masks against the smoke in Sydney, Australia, earlier this month.



German tourists wearing face masks against the smoke in Sydney, Australia, earlier this month. Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Health risks

Wildfire smoke poses a major health risk to human beings because it contains high levels of PM2.5, tiny particulate matter that can make its way into your lungs and bloodstream. The smoke from Sydney’s wildfire earlier this month led to the declaration of a public health emergency after air pollution levels soared to 11 times the threshold that is necessary for the risk to be classed as “hazardous”.

Increased CO₂ emissions

Experts say that wildfires are responsible for up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Guardian Australia has revealed that since August, the bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland have been jointly responsible for nearly half of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Loss of land

Wildfires can travel at speeds of up to 14mph, meaning that they can wipe out large areas of land extremely quickly. The United States suffered its largest wildfire season on record in 2015, with more than 10m acres of terrain being scorched.


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