At least 200 fires are burning in southeastern Australia, and the impacts have ballooned to a global scale. Smoke pollutes the air as far away as South America, and images of residents and wildlife fleeing the blaze are rocketing across the social media world.
New Zealand, which is just over a thousand miles from Australia’s southeast coast, experienced its fair share of side effects last week. Bands of incoming smoke caused eerie sunsets and turned snow on its mountains coffee brown.
Auckland, which is about 1,300 miles from Sydney, was infiltrated with smoke about 2 p.m. local time on Sunday, according to Weather Watch.
The New Zealand Met Service shared satellite images that showed a brown plume of smoke blowing directly into the country’s northern provinces. Forecasters expected the smoke to clear by Monday.
As skies became clouded with smoke, social media was filled with images from residents who captured the phenomenon. Auckland police asked residents to stop calling the emergency line to report the unusual conditions, Radio New Zealand said.
Professional tennis player Michael Venus posted a photo of his practice session, the stadium backlit by a dramatic orange haze.
The glowing skies were a reminder of the disaster that has claimed at least a dozen lives in Australia over the past week and burned an area the size of West Virginia so far this season. Climate change has led to conditions that are particularly ripe for fires. In 2019, Australia experienced its driest and hottest year on record; Saturday was the hottest day ever recorded in Sydney, a scorching 120 degrees, and the capital, Canberra, reached 110.
On Saturday, Australia’s government called up 3,000 army reservists to assist with evacuations.
In addition to causing destruction on the ground, the blazes are wreaking havoc in the air, filling it with soot, ash and smoke and causing air quality index levels to spike. On New Year’s Day, Canberra’s air quality was rated worse than any other major city in the world, according to the Australian Academy of Science. On Friday, several locations in New Zealand were designated “code orange,” indicating it could be unhealthy for people with health problems.
When another front arrived on Sunday, the Ministry of Health told Radio New Zealand that the smoke would probably not harm the air quality on the ground because it was in the upper atmosphere.
But some residents complained of difficulty breathing, Sky News reported. Zimena Dormer-Didovich of Auckland told the broadcaster that the incoming smoke had exacerbated her teenager’s asthma.
“We’re so far away,” she said, “yet this smoke is so intense."
Read more coverage of Australia’s wildfires: