Australia has deployed military planes and ships to provide aid as hundreds of wildfires rage across Australia, forcing residents to flee and destroying homes.
The Australian Defense Force is sending ships to the Victoria town of Mallacoota on a two-week supply mission and using helicopters to bring in more firefighters since roads were inaccessible, according to the Associated Press (AP).
On Tuesday, thousands of people from the town on Australia’s southeastern coast fled towards the water as a fire ripped through the area.
Photos of residents taking shelter on boats circulated on social media.
This is the situation in Mallacoota at the moment. A mother and her kids are sheltering in their boat on the water. People are reporting the sound of gas bottles exploding in town and quite a few homes have been burnt. @abcmelbourne #gippsnews #gippslandfires
Seven people have died since Monday, with fires tearing through communities in New South Wales and Victoria states, according to the AP. The dead include a volunteer firefighter who was killed near the New South Wales-Victoria border when his truck was flipped over by what local authorities called a “fire tornado.”
In New South Wales, where Sydney is located, firefighters are battling more than 100 fires, according to the state’s Rural Fire Service.
Sydney’s famed New Year’s Eve fireworks went ahead despite the fires. A petition calling on the government to cancel the display and give the funds to firefighters and farmers instead got more than 280,000 signatures.
New South Wales’ Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said this wildfire season is the worst on record.
“We’ve seen extraordinary fire behavior,” he said Tuesday, according to the AP. “What we really need is meaningful rain, and we haven’t got anything in the forecast at the moment that says we’re going to get drought-breaking or fire-quenching rainfall.”
More than 900 homes have been destroyed in the state, according to New South Wales Rural Fire Service.
A fire tracker map maintained by researchers in Western Australia shows that they are also threatening areas around every major city in the country.
A map from researchers in Western Australia shows hundreds of wildfire hotspots across the nation as of Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020.
And although the weather cooled slightly in parts of Australia on Wednesday, authorities warned that, with several months of summer left, the worst is not yet over.
“We have three months of hot weather to come. We do have a dynamic and a dangerous fire situation across the state,” Victoria Emergency Commissioner Andrew Crisp said, according to the AP.
“When you have very hot, dry, windy conditions, if all of those things come together, a fire can get quickly out of control,” Lesley Hughes, with the environmental group Climate Council of Australia, tells TIME.
“As the climate is warming up, we’re getting more and more extremely hot days and currently, of course, Australia is in the grip of probably unprecedented heatwave conditions almost right across the continent.”
Despite the bushfire crisis, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has argued that there is no direct link between Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and the severity of the fires burning across the country. However, he acknowledged that climate change could be impacting bushfires. Australia is one of the highest per-capita emitters of carbon dioxide in the world, according to Climate Analytics, an advocacy group that tracks climate data.
On Wednesday, bushfires burned in all directions outside of Sydney, including a fire near the Blue Mountains which has already destroyed an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.