Australia is on fire. Not all of it but so far, flames have engulfed some 12 million acres, more than the land mass of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Inhabitants of the hot, dry continent learned long ago that coping with wildfires is a part of life. But the conflagrations that have swept across large parts of Australia are unprecedented in their size and ferocity, with consequences that stagger the imagination.
Hundreds of homes have burned, and more than 140,000 people have been told to evacuate. More than two dozen have died. Some Australians have literally been driven into the sea, where they stood in the surf or sat on boats waiting for the flames to subside. Roads and highways have been closed, including one that connects the nations two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne.
More than 1,000 residents of one coastal area had to be evacuated by ship. Hundreds of millions of animals are feared dead and some species are likely to go extinct. This is not a bush fire, one government official said. Its an atomic bomb.