As the lightning-caused Ravine Fire on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia continues to grow to the east new evacuations have been ordered. In anticipation of high fire danger on Thursday the South Australian Country Fire Service has taken the unusual step of calling on police to help evacuate the town of Vivienne Bay on the south side of the island.
There are concerns that the fire could cross control lines and burn into areas with heavy fuel loading near the town of 400 residents. The weather forecast on Thursday calls for winds east to northeasterly 25 to 35 km/h increasing to 40 km/h before shifting westerly 20 to 30 km/h in the late afternoon.
The 164,000-hectare (405,000-acre) fire has had a major impact on the wildlife while burning over a third of the island. It has been called a Noah’s Ark since it supports species that are not found in large numbers in other locations.
Several organizations on the island are caring for koalas that have been injured in the fire. About 50 have been brought to the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, but at least one-third had to be euthanized due to extreme burns. The Guardian reports that Sam Mitchell, co-owner of the park, estimates that of the estimated 50,000 koalas on the island “probably more than half” would have perished in the fires, but it was “a guessing game”.
There is also concern about other species including the Kangaroo Island Dunant, glossy black-cockatoo, wallabies, pygmy possums, and the rare green carpenter bee.
It is going to be a real scene of devastation, especially for those people in the Adelaide Hills who have been most affected,'' South Australia Premier Steven Marshall said. "We know that in addition to the buildings and vehicles lost, there are very significant losses in terms of livestock, animals, crops, vineyards.''
The annual Australian fire season, which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer, started early after an unusually warm and dry winter. Around 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has burned nationwide during a torrid past few months, with nine people killed and more than 800 homes destroyed.
The devastation has put pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has received criticism for going on a family vacation in Hawaii during the wildfire crisis. He apologized on Friday for any offense "caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time.''
Morrison cut short his vacation and returned home on Saturday night. He is due to visit the New South Wales Rural Fire Service headquarters on Sunday.
Debate has reignited on whether Morrison's conservative government has taken enough action on climate change. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas.
Fatih Birol, International Energy Agency executive director, believes Australia has missed opportunities to mitigate the impact of coal. "I find the Australian energy debate far too emotional, far too nervous and far too hot. It is hotter than the climate change itself," he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Protesters on Thursday camped outside Morrison's Sydney residence demanding urgent action on climate change. Morrison, who critics have deemed a climate change skeptic, conceded earlier this month that ``climate change along with many other factors'' has contributed to the wildfires.