Australia bushfires: The numbers telling the terrible story

Josie Adams writes for The Spinoff

Bushfire season in Australia traditionally runs from December-March, but since August last year fires have been scorching the country in an unprecedented wave of destruction. We look at the fires by numbers.

480 million

The estimated number of animal deaths so far, despite the best efforts of conservation and wildlife protection agencies.


Fires currently blazing in New South Wales alone.


The AQI or Air Quality Index measured in South Sydney yesterday morning. This is classified as "hazardous". For comparison, in Pukekohe the AQI is currently 64, in London and Hong Kong it's 55, in Shanghai it's 77, and in Abu Dhabi it's 120. AQIs over 300 are considered extremely hazardous. Children, seniors, and the sick should stay indoors, and others should avoid outdoor activities.

45,000 years

How long First Nations Australians went without so much of the country being razed to the ground.


The distance the smoke travelled from New South Wales to Auckland over the weekend.

250 million tonnes

The amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the fires from August through to December last year.

535 million tonnes

The total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by Australia in 2018.


The altitude to which "pyro-cumulonimbus" clouds have risen above East Gippsland. When a bushfire grows large enough it begins to generate its own storm, which spreads the fire further via lightning strikes. One of these storms is responsible for the fire tornado spotted on Kangaroo Island, where two people have been killed.


The number of face masks from a national stockpile reserved for pandemics being provided to at-risk Victorians and frontline workers.


The number of people who have died since the fires began.


The number who have been declared missing since the fires began.


The number of indigenous Australians who live in New South Wales, the state most severely affected by fires. Sacred land and reservations are burning all around the country. First Nations knowledge of fire management will be integral to continued life in Australia.

12.35 million acres

The territory burned up since the season's fires began. Equivalent to about 50,000 square kilometres, that's almost half the North Island of New Zealand, and over five times as much land as burned in the Amazon fires last year. It's almost 18 times the amount that normally burns in Australian bush fires each year, and is just under 12 times the size of the Black Saturday fires of 2009, which took the lives of 173 people.


The number of members of the royal family who have deigned to send their "thoughts and prayers" to those affected by the fires.


Land in New South Wales declared an emergency zone in need of evacuation.

12 years

How long ago it was unambiguously predicted that inaction on the impending climate crisis would result in bushfires that burned longer and more intensely.

6 months

How long ago a specific warning was given to the government by experienced fire chiefs.

$33 million

The amount raised by comedian Celeste Barber for charities and organisations combating the fire and its effects.


The US sum raised by Kaylen Ward, an LA-based sex worker, who sent nudes to anyone who donated $10 to one of a prescribed list of organisations in Australia.


Homes destroyed.


Army reservists being deployed to communities struck by the fires, and a third navy vessel will help evacuations in coastal areas.


Fire-fighting planes leased by the Australian government to combat the fires.


Veteran Californian firefighters have been sent to help.


Canadian firefighters have been sent since the fires began.


New Zealand firefighters sent to help since October last year. Another 22 will be deployed tomorrow.


Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopters (with a 55-person crew including medical and logistics staff) sent to aid transport of personnel and equipment in fire-affected areas.


NZ Army Combat Engineer Sections comprising 25 staff have been sent to help with access and evacuation path clearance.


Task force headquarters team will coordinate these teams and liaise with Australian personnel to best help.

See an up-to-date chart of fires and lightning strikes in Australia here.

The Spinoff