January 13, 2020 / Mark Ames

Australia's Wildfires

The scale of Australia’s wildfires defies comprehension. As of this writing, approximately 12 million acres have burned. That’s roughly equal to the combined size of Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware. Put into another context, the average baseball park is about 2.5 acres; imagine how many could fit into 12 million acres.

Equally hard to imagine is the emotional toll of the fires. Hundreds of homes and businesses have been destroyed or damaged, more than a dozen people have died with many more missing, and approximately half a billion animals have been killed. On the frontlines of this struggle to save lives, communities, and wildlife habitats are thousands of volunteers and professionals, each of whom is at risk of exposure to numerous occupational and environmental health and safety hazards, including heat stress, fatigue, poor air quality, and ergonomic and psychological stressors, among others.

Anyone impacted should visit Australia’s emergency disaster resource center. Please help spread the word by sharing this link: http://bit.ly/AUDisasterAssistance. You can also find key information at https://www.disasterassist.gov.

Hard as it is to believe, the situation is expected to get worse. Australia’s wildfire season usually starts in December and ends in March, which means that several more weeks lie ahead. Even as the fires are extinguished, new challenges await residents and others who have traveled from around the world to help the embattled country. AIHA has numerous resources useful for those in Australia and elsewhere.

Throughout 2019, AIHA highlighted the many hazards that may be present during fire recovery efforts. Sometimes these hazards are obvious, such as sharps or unstable structures. Other times they may be harder to identify, such as hidden hot spots, toxic combustion particles, and biological or electrical hazards, among others.

“Protecting our neighborhoods requires community-wide collaboration before, during, and long after a wildfire," said AIHA President Kathy Murphy, CIH. "By working together and equipping ourselves with knowledge, we can reduce risks to firefighters, other disaster response workers, volunteers, and homeowners."

This year, AIHA is stepping up its efforts even further, expanding our public, worker, and public policy engagement to encompass all aspects of wildfire hazards, including those that may be present at the beginning, during, and long after an incident. Recently, we were featured in an article entitled “How Wildfire Hazards Can Impact You and Your Family.”

To help raise awareness of these efforts and spread the word about the many resources available, please visit www.thinkactfiresmart.org. While there, please take a moment to sign a petition to Members of Congress and State Legislators, pledging your support for disaster response volunteers. You may also be interested in joining one of AIHA’s volunteer groups, such as the Incident Preparedness and Response Working Group. The AIHA website has additional information on these groups. To join a volunteer group, fill out the online form.

Thanks, as always, for your volunteerism!

Visit Australia's emergency disaster resource center and the Australian government's Disaster Assist site.

Mark Ames

Mark Ames is AIHA's director of Government Relations.


Thank you from Australia

Thank you all for your generous support and prayers during this most difficult time. The AIOH has also matched AIHA's incredibly kind donation of $5000 to the Australian Fire Services.

By Andrew Orfanos on January 19, 2020 6:17pm

Thanks for sending support to the people of Australia. It represents the compassion of our community.

By Doris on January 14, 2020 7:53pm
AIHA Contribution to Australian Red Cross

AIHA has contributed $5000 AU to the Australian Red Cross to help support relief efforts.

By Larry Sloan on January 14, 2020 3:21pm

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