A helicopter dumps water on a fire in Victoria's East Gippsland region. Tourists and firefighters were forced to flee vast fires burning in southeastern Australia. AFP/Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
MELBOURNE - Around 100,000 people were urged to flee five Melbourne suburbs on Monday evening as Australia's spiralling bushfire crisis killed a volunteer firefighter battling a separate blaze in the countryside.
Authorities in the country's second-biggest city downgraded an earlier bushfire emergency warning but said residents should steer clear of the blaze, which has burned through 40 hectares of grassland.
In Bundoora -- just 16 kilometres north of the city centre and home to two major Australian university campuses -- the fire's spread toward houses had been halted for now but it was yet to be brought under control, said Victoria Emergency.
Local media showed images of water bombers flying over neighbourhoods, and families hosing down their homes in the hope of halting the fire's spread.
A volunteer firefighter died in New South Wales state and two others suffered burns while working on a blaze more than five hours south-west of Sydney, the Rural Fire Service said.
"It's believed that the truck rolled when hit by extreme winds," the agency said in a tweet.
Ten others, including two volunteer firefighters, have been killed so far this fire season.
The crisis has focused attention on climate change -- which scientists say is creating a longer and more intense bushfire season -- and sparked street protests calling for immediate action to tackle global warming.
While conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison belatedly acknowledged a link between the fires and climate change, he has continued his staunch support of Australia's lucrative coal mining industry and ruled out further action to reduce emissions.
The blazes have also destroyed more than 1,000 homes and scorched more than three million hectares -- an area bigger than Belgium.
A heatwave sweeping the country Monday fuelled the latest destruction in Australia's devastating summer fire season, which has been turbocharged by a prolonged drought and climate change.
Conditions worsened on Friday with high winds and temperatures soaring across the country -- reaching 47 degrees Celsius in Western Australia and topping 40 degrees in every region -- including the usually temperate island of Tasmania.
More than a dozen blazes are also raging in Victoria's East Gippsland countryside, where authorities said "quite a number" of the 30,000 tourists visiting the usually picturesque region had heeded calls to evacuate.
Some of the fires were burning so intensely that hundreds of firefighters were pulled back beyond a front estimated to stretch 1,000 kilometres.
It was deemed "unsafe" for them to remain in bushland areas, Gippsland fire incident controller Ben Rankin said, describing the situation as "very intense".
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Greeted With Jeers, 'Obscene Gestures' During Tour of Wildfire-Ravaged Town
Omnicide: Who is responsible for the gravest of all crimes?
By Danielle Celermajer -
As the full extent of the devastation of the Holocaust became apparent, a Polish Jew whose entire family had been killed, Raphael Lemkin, came to realise that there was no word for the distinctive crime that had been committed: the murder of a people. His life work became finding a word to name the crime and then convincing the world to use it and condemn it: genocide. Today, not only has genocide become a dreadful part of our lexicon. We recognise it as perhaps the gravest of all crimes.
During these first days of the third decade of the twenty-first century, as we watch humans, animals, trees, insects, fungi, ecosystems, forests, rivers (and on and on) being killed, we find ourselves without a word to name what is happening. True, in recent years, environmentalists have coined the term ecocide, the killing of ecosystems — but this is something more. This is the killing of everything. Omnicide.
Some will object, no doubt, that this does not count as a “cide” — a murder or killing — but is rather a natural phenomenon, albeit an unspeakably regrettable one. Where is the murderous intent? Difficult to locate, admittedly, but a new crime also requires a new understanding of culpability. Indeed, one of the most serious problems with the laws against genocide is that they were written in a way that requires that the specific intent to destroy a people can be shown to have existed. Even where it did exist, such intent most often remains hidden in people’s dark hearts.
This time, though, we need to go much further. We need to understand that the responsibility for omnicide is various and layered. The role that those responsible play this time is almost always less direct, but its effect no less devastating. We are unlikely to identify anyone actively scheming the death of the five-hundred million wild animals whom we believe to have died in the first month of this summer’s Australian bushfires.
We can, however, identify the political representatives who refused to meet with fire chiefs who had been seeking to warn of, and act to mitigate, the impending disaster. The same political representatives who approved and continue to approve new coalmines in the face of scientific consensus on the effect that continuing to burn fossil fuels will have on climate in general, and drought and temperatures in particular. The same political representatives who approve water being diverted to support resource extraction, when living beings are dying for want of water and drying to the point of conflagration.
We can identify the media owners who sponsor mass denial of the scientific evidence of the effects of a fossil fuel addicted economy on the climate. The same media owners who deploy the tools of mass manipulation to stoke fear, seed confusion, breed ignorance and create and then fuel hostile divisions within communities.
We can identify the financial institutions that continue to invest in, and thereby prop up toxic industries, and who support the abovementioned media owners so as to protect themselves from accumulating stranded assets. We can identify the investors who use their financial and social capital to support politicians who will protect their financial interests. We can identify a corporate culture and a legal system, populated by lawyers, management consultants and financial analysts, that incentivise or even require companies to maximise short term shareholder profit and externalise costs to the future and the planet.
And then we can identify parties closer to home. Business owners and investors whose profits depend on systems of extraction and resource exploitation. Consumers addicted to lifestyles based on resource extraction and the exploitation of the natural world. Citizens who prioritise narrow short-term interests over the sustainability of the planet. Citizens who lack the courage or fortitude to take ourselves through the social and economic transformations required to give our children and the more-than-human-world a future. Citizens who do not bother to take the time or make the effort to develop well-informed opinions, but would rather run to the comfort of the truisms of their tribe.
We can also identify the humans and human cultures that have told ourselves that we are superior to, and thus have the right to dominate and exploit, other animals and the natural world. That we are the ones who get to flourish, and that everything else that is here, is here for our use. That other beings are not life but resource.
None on this long list developed a specific intent to kill everything. But all of us have created and are creating the conditions in which omnicide is inevitable.
When I was growing up, my parents used to play a Bob Dylan song called “Who Killed Davey Moore?” about a boxer who died in the ring when he was just 30 years old. Each verse begins with some party — the coach, the crowd, the manager, the gambling man, the boxing writer, the other fighter — answering the title’s question, “Who killed Davey Moore?” They each respond, “Not I …” and then explain that they were just doing what it is that they do: going to the fight, writing about the fight, throwing the punches and so on. And of course, they each told the truth.
We too are just doing what it is that we do: ensuring that the largest political donors support our political campaigns; maximising profits; ensuring a high share price; living a comfortable life style; avoiding change; lazily buying back in to the conceit that we humans are special. But sometimes, just doing what it is that we do is sufficient to kill, not just Davey Moore, but everything.
Omnicide, the gravest of all crimes. And as with all crimes, those responsible must be held accountable.
Danielle Celermajer is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. She is the author of The Sins of the Nation and the Ritual of Apologies and The Prevention of Torture: An Ecological Approach.