The Worst Wildfires in a Decade Pour Acrid Smoke Over Sydney

There are roughly 100 blazes popping in southeastern Australia, making the sky almost as black as night.


This story first appeared on the Atlantic Cities website and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Going outside in many parts of southeastern Australia right now is like sucking on a stogie filled with smoldering grass and bark. The countryside is alive with flame from nearly 100 rampaging blazes, which are drawing strength from feverish weather to slam a dirty-black lid of smoke over Sydney.

This breakout will go down as the worst regional fires in a decade. More than a third of the fires are out of control and behaving erratically thanks to screwy yet strong wind patterns. The Sydney Morning Herald has put together a timeline of events from Thursday, and it’s laden with cruel portents:

7am Day begins with warnings. There were 65 fires in NSW, 25 uncontained. Forecasts of hot and windy conditions….

3pm Multiple fires through the Blue Mountains. Ash starts to fall across Sydney….

6pm Parts of fuel store set alight at Blue Wren Drive near Wyong. Reports of explosions.

6.40pm RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons: ”This is as bad as it gets. We may be counting homes lost in the dozens or hundreds.”

While the situation on the ground must be nerve-racking, from space it looks fairly terrible, too. The above image, taken on Thursday afternoon by NASA’s Aqua satellite, shows the earth spewing smoke like a titanic beater with a blown head gasket. The blazes are outlined in red; the largest in this shot is the State Mine fire at top left, a sower of destruction to more than 50,000 acres of land.

“In addition to the threat posed by the fires, the image shows that smoke pollution was a problem in populated coastal communities,” says NASA. “The densest plume of smoke hangs directly over Sydney, though the brighter white streak is probably a cloud.” Aside from the smoke, the locals are also having to deal with burning embers falling onto their properties, according to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. That agency is advising people to stamp out any spot fires they see, and also to (in very good advice) find shelter “if the fire impacts on your property. Protect yourself from the heat of the fire.”

Here are photos from local observer Maarten Danial of the glum scene in Sydney:

And this is a zoom of the NASA image over the vicinity of Sydney. You can almost see a city (on the coast below the densest white cloud) through all that haze:

While the situation on the ground must be nerve-racking, from space it looks fairly terrible, too. The above image, taken on Thursday afternoon by NASA’s Aqua satellite, shows the earth spewing smoke like a titanic beater with a blown head gasket. The blazes are outlined in red; the largest in this shot is the State Mine fire at top left, a sower of destruction to more than 50,000 acres of land.

“In addition to the threat posed by the fires, the image shows that smoke pollution was a problem in populated coastal communities,” says NASA. “The densest plume of smoke hangs directly over Sydney, though the brighter white streak is probably a cloud.” Aside from the smoke, the locals are also having to deal with burning embers falling onto their properties, according to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. That agency is advising people to stamp out any spot fires they see, and also to (in very good advice) find shelter “if the fire impacts on your property. Protect yourself from the heat of the fire.”

Here are photos from local observer Maarten Danial of the glum scene in Sydney:

And this is a zoom of the NASA image over the vicinity of Sydney. You can almost see a city (on the coast below the densest white cloud) through all that haze:

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate