Giovanni Torre in Perth One of Australia’s most famous animals is now a threatened species, with the country’s bushfire crisis wiping out huge numbers of koalas.
Sussan Ley, the environment minister said Friday that the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, home to a sizeable part of Australia’s koala population, may have lost 30 per cent of its koalas.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Ms Ley said 30 per cent of koala habitat had been destroyed in the region.
She added: “We will know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made”.
Before the fire crisis began it was estimated that up to 28,000 koalas lived in the Mid North Coast.
Eight people have died in New South Wales alone, and about 3.4million hectares and almost 1,000 homes have been lost to the long-running bushfire crisis. Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia have also faced large, emergency-level fires this fire season.
Early on Friday the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) issued a “very high fire danger rating” for many parts of the state.
In a statement, the RFS said there were “almost 1,300 firefighters in the field. Over 70 bush and grass fires, 33 uncontained”.
Late in the day, it warned that Saturday would see “widespread very high fire danger”.
South Australia’s Country Fire Service (CFS) assistant chief officer Brenton Eden told The Advertiser that the state is extremely dry and the conditions and coming heatwave poses a serious threat.
“We are seeing fire behaviour across SA, Victoria and NSW that we haven’t seen and experienced for a long time… These fires are now travelling immense distances and covering an enormous amount of the landscape before people are prepared either to defend their property or to get out,” he said.
“Cudlee Creek has been the most classic example recently, together with Yorketown, of fires that have started from a very small ignition source… The CFS responded within minutes to them and had no capacity to bring them under control.”
Mr Eden warned that the two fires that have burnt through a total of 42,300 hectares of land at Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills, and in Duncan, on Kangaroo Island, would continue to burn for weeks.
“It’s tinder dry and ready to burn and that’s what we’re seeing at the moment,” he said.
As the crisis continues there is renewed pressure on Scott Morrison, the prime minister, to reform Australia’s firefighting services and infrastructure.
Weeks after he rejected calls to transform Australia’s largely volunteer bush firefighting services into professional organisations, one of Mr Morrison’s own senior Ministers has called for change.
As three large fires raged in his electorate of Gippsland, Victoria, Veterans’ Affairs Minister and Nationals MP Darren Chester said this week that there is strong support among his constituents to pay volunteers when they worked for extended periods.
Veteran NSW fire fighter Brendan Hurley, writing for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, said: “I’ve been a firefighter for 20 years and these fires have delivered the worst conditions I’ve ever faced. We have been responding to bushfires since the end of September and it is fair to say that as we move further into the campaign fatigue is setting in.”
And one week after the uproar over Mr Morrison’s Hawaiian holiday, New South Wales Emergency Services Minister David Elliott is leaving the country for a trip to the UK and France. His office said the Minister would not cancel his trip, but in a statement Mr Elliott said he would return home, “if the bushfire situation should demand it”.
Mr Morrison’s Liberal Party is also in power at a state level in New South Wales.