Estimate: 1 billion animals may have perished in Australian bushfires

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - The Australia wildfires have had a horrific impact on wildlife and the continent’s biodiversity.

A smoky wildfire is seen near the town of Eden in southern New South Wales, Australia, on Wednesday. (Source: CNN)

More than 1 billion animals have perished in the fires since September, according to an estimation from professor Chris Dickman, who works in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney and has more than 30 years of experience in ecology and mammals.

“I think there’s nothing quite to compare with the devastation that’s going on over such a large area so quickly," he said. “It’s a monstrous event in terms of geography and the number of individual animals affected."

Thunderstorms and showers have brought some relief for firefighters battling deadly wildfires across Australia’s drought-parched east coast. But the storms have also raised concerns that more fires will be sparked by lightning strikes when hot and windy conditions return.

Fire officials say 2,300 firefighters in New South Wales state are making the most of relatively benign conditions by frantically consolidating containment lines around more than 110 fires blazes and patrolling for lightning strikes.

The unprecedented fire crisis has killed 26 people, with the latest death a Victoria state firefighter who was working to extinguish unattended campfires.

The wildfires in Australia are so ferocious they have devoured places like the supposedly fireproof home of Justin Kam and Helena Wong.

They built their house with quarter-inch-thick reinforced glass, steel framing and rock retaining walls. But as the flames soared as high as a 15-story building, they realized they were in mortal danger.

They are among 2,000 homeowners in Australia whose houses have burned down during this catastrophic fire season Down Under.

The U.S. is planning to send at least 100 more firefighters to Australia to join 159 already there.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said 90 firefighters including on-the-ground hand crews have left in recent days to fight fires that have scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland. Another 100 firefighters are are expected to fly out next week.

Australian officials have requested the firefighters as part of a reciprocal deal that had 138 Australians coming to the U.S. to fight wildfires in 2018.

As his country burned, Australia’s political leader was cursed and jeered out of a town, called an “idiot,” a “moron” and worse.

The deadly wildfires have proven to be not just a national crisis but a crisis for Scott Morrison — one so grave that some have questioned whether his leadership can survive it.

WARNING: The video below is graphic and may not be suitable for all audiences.

Morrison’s blunders began early, with a secret vacation last month in Hawaii as his hometown of Sydney was choking on wildfire smoke. His government has been accused of ignoring climate change.

Morrison has brushed off the insults as born of frustration, but critics say he should take some of the feedback to heart.

Elton John and Chris Hemsworth have each pledged to donate $1 million toward the Australia wildfires relief effort. Hemsworth is from Australia and says “every penny counts.”

John said during his concert in Sydney, Australia, that wanted to bring attention to the devastation that wildfires have caused, saying it has reached a “biblical scale.” The wildfires have so far scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland.

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