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USAID has deployed humanitarian advisors and is providing aid to support Australia's emergency response to unprecedented wildfires. Saeed Khan/AFP
USAID has deployed humanitarian advisors and is providing aid to support Australia's emergency response to unprecedented wildfires.
Saeed Khan/AFP

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Key Developments

Wildfires—fueled by several years of drought and high temperatures—have spread through Australia’s New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia states, as well as Kangaroo Island, resulting in at least 26 deaths, destroying nearly 2,100 houses, and burning more than 17 million acres as of January 8. Fires continue to spread and merge, causing air pollution, damaging homes, and disrupting electricity and water supplies. The Government of Australia mobilized 3,000 military reservists, established a new National Bushfire Recovery Agency to coordinate the response, and expressed willingness to accept international assistance.

On January 9, U.S. Ambassador Arthur B. Culvahouse, Jr., declared a disaster due to the effects of the wildfires. In response, USAID provided $100,000 for immediate relief efforts and deployed staff to Australia to support humanitarian assessments and response activities. USAID’s humanitarian response is in addition to the work of the National Interagency Fire Center, which has been coordinating the deployment of U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service wildfire personnel to assist with wildfire suppression efforts.

Background

Australia regularly experiences wildfires, locally known as bushfires, with severity of the season varying by region. In southeastern and southwestern Australia, bushfires tend to be more common and severe from December to March, while northern Australia typically experiences bushfires from April to September. Drought and higher temperatures have contributed to longer and more dangerous fire seasons in recent years. The deadliest bushfire disaster on record resulted in more than 170 deaths in Australia’s Victoria State in 2009.

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Last updated: June 16, 2020

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