Australia is on fire. Over the past few months more than 12 million acres of land have been reduced to scorched earth. At least 24 people have died, seven within the past week, while an estimated 480 million animals are believed to have been killed in the New South Wales bushfires alone. More than 1,500 homes have been destroyed.Huge swaths of the country are enveloped in smoke and toxic fumes, a shroud that has spread as far as New Zealand, while Canberra, the nation's capital, recently claimed the title of having the worst air quality in the world. In many places the sky is stained a constant shade of blood red; in others, it is pitch black in the middle of the day. The fire front is driving entire townships toward the coast and onto the beaches, where the Australian Defence Force waits to evacuate them on zodiacs and battleships in what is likely the largest peacetime maritime rescue operation in the country's history.
Beyond the cataloguing of these facts and figures, the situation in Australia defies description. The word "apocalyptic" comes constantly to mind. And it's expected to worsen, with authorities warning that the infernos, spurred on by heatwaves and dry winds, could continue for months.Every day, more footage from the frontline reveals the extent of the devastation—of the armageddon and the aftermath—as communities around the country are swept up in one of the biggest climate disasters Australia has ever seen.