'Twenty years of destruction': Harrowing aerial photos reveal extent of bushfire damage

Brooke Rolfe
News Reporter

The catastrophic devastation caused by bushfires that have relentlessly burned across the country for months has been captured in aerial images taken before and after flames tore through.

Harrowing images, provided by Nearmap, have documented the disastrous toll of fires that burned huge parts of the Adelaide Hills, NSW mid north coast, and the NSW north coast.

More than 3700 privately owned animals were lost in the Adelaide Hills fire including 3345 sheep, 292 cattle and 23 alpacas, and there was expansive damage to 63 vineyards covering 1100 hectares. Varying levels of destruction were also caused to multiple apple, cherry and hazelnut orchards.

One of the decimated vineyards appeared luscious and green in an aerial photo taken before flames ripped through the area. A completely charred and blackened image was then taken of the same spot, showing the devastation.

Aerial photos show an Adelaide Hills fruit lot before and after it was destroyed by fire. Source: Nearmap

The same could be said about before and after images taken from above beachside suburb Wallabi Point on the NSW mid north coast, which was singed in fire that narrowly missed homes in November last year.

A sombre scene was also shown following another November fire in Nana Glen on the NSW north coast, where a home previously surrounded by leafy green bush was left among acres of nothing but ash.

In some cases land may never regenerate to its previous form, particularly in the case of forests that have never been burnt in such a manner, policy analyst at the Australian Conservation Foundation James Trezise told Yahoo News Australia.

Environments may be permanently damaged

“Rainforests on the east coast are not known to be fire adapted, so what those ecosystems regenerate into is unlikely to be what was there pre-fire,” Mr Trezise said.

He said there was particular concern for parts of the Alpine area, where bushland was not equipped to survive in such intense and hot fire, especially off the back of significant blazes in 2003 and 2006.

Images above beachside suburb Wallabi Point show before and after it was singed by fire in November. Source: Nearmap

“Rainforests will potentially evolve into dry forests, and when that happens they become more fire prone in the future. So what we’re going to lose is these wet, temperate ecosystems.

“What’s different in this fire season is the sheer amount of habitat which has all burnt at once, and the huge mortality that we’re seeing of wildlife. So there’s also a question of whether the wildlife can bounce back.”

Mr Trezise said there was uncertainty about whether animals would be capable of survival given the dramatic decline of resources available in their regular habitats.

Could be the end of some species

“We’re really concerned we’re gong to lose species as a result of these events coupled with the ongoing impacts of habitat destruction and deforestation we’re seeing across the country,” Mr Trezise said.

“The bushfires are burning out the patches of habitat that we’ve got left, and at the same time we’re destroying the habitat of species for a range of other developments.

“So it’s kind of like getting attacked at both ends and we’re not leaving many spaces for them to go.”

A home in Nana Glen was left surrounded by singed trees and ash after a bushfire in November. Source: Nearmap

He added that climate change would heighten these issues further by escalating the threat of bushfires, drying out wet areas and forcing species to shift due to their climactic needs.

“These fires are completely unprecedented, they started even before fire season began and are still burning,” he said.

Years of damage in just a few months

“It’s almost equivalent of 20 years of habitat destruction in a three-month period. That’s hugely unprecedented. There are very few areas of refuge left for a lot of species in Australia.”

Mr Trezise said it was important to consider the long-term implications for wildlife populations which had been all but decimated in the bushfire crisis.

“We’re going to have to put a strong focus on protecting areas of critical habitat, implementing species recovery plans, not destroying key biodiversity areas that we know nature is going to need into the future.

“It’s a dire situation on the back of this fire season.”

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