Australia's 'ferocious' wildfires are going to get worse this weekend. Here's what to know

Grace Hauck and Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

Thousands of tourists and residents evacuated parts of Australia on Friday as hot temperatures and strong winds were expected to worsen wildfire conditions over the weekend.

"This is a ferocious fire that is still out there, and the climatic conditions are going to be very difficult to contain in the next 24 to 48 hours," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a press conference Friday.

At least 19 people have died, dozens are missing and more than 1,400 homes have been lost in the country's wildfires, which have been burning since October.

Here's what to know about the deadly fires.

Map: Where are the fires burning in Australia?

SOURCE myfirewatch.landgate.wa.gov.au; Emergency WA; maps4news.com/©HERE

Authorities have said this season's fires are the worst in Australia's history and that the crisis is likely to last for months. Hundreds of fires are active across the nation with more than 12 million acres of land scorched.

By comparison, fires in Brazil's Amazon burned nearly 5 million acres in the first half of 2019. In Bolivia, officials estimate that nearly 6 million acres of land have been torched since August. In California, nearly 2 million acres burned in fires throughout 2018, according to the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Evacuations are taking place in three southern states: New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

New South Wales, where Sydney is located, has sustained the most damage. The state declared a seven-day state of emergency starting Friday and issued an "extreme" fire warning, the second-highest level on the danger scale after "catastrophic."

U.S. Embassy officials warned that tourists on the south coast of New South Wales should leave because of "extreme fire danger" starting Saturday.

The state’s fire service reported that 137 fires were burning at midnight.

Victoria, located just south of New South Wales, declared a state of disaster Friday, allowing the government to force people to evacuate.

"These fires are at a scale that has been ... unprecedented, particularly for this time of year and the length of the fire season and the absence of the dousing rain," Morrison said.

Australia bushfires: 12M acres scorched and at least 2 people killed

Navy evacuates hundreds

In this photo released by the Australian Department of Defense, evacuees board landing craft to be ferried out to the navy's HMAS Choules, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, in Mallacoota, Victoria, Australia.

Two Navy ships were undertaking an evacuation Friday for about 1,100 people and their pets in the coastal Victoria town of Mallacoota, where about 4,000 people, including 3,000 tourists, had been stranded, according to the Australian Broadcasting Company.

The ships were bound for Western Port, Victoria — a journey that was expected to take 20 hours, according to Australia's Department of Defence.

Twenty-five children and elderly citizens were also airlifted from the area.

Millions of animals have died in the fires

Since September, at least 480 million animals — including mammals, birds and reptiles — have died in bushfires in New South Wales, Sydney University ecologist Chris Dickman told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Images of koalas drinking water after being rescued from the wildfires have gone viral on social media in recent days, and thousands of the animals are feared dead.

Victoria's department of agriculture told local news outlets that livestock have also been injured, but that many farmers have been unable to return to their farms to assess the damage.

A toddler’s dad died battling wildfires: The boy was awarded his bravery medal

Dozens of people are missing in Victoria

At least 28 people are missing in Victoria, according to the state.

"This is news no one ever wants to receive," Premier Daniel Andrews said on Twitter Friday evening. "Emergency services agencies and Victoria Police are working hard to account for them, and we are obviously very concerned for their safety."

Overall, at least 19 people have been killed and more than 1,400 homes have been destroyed in the summer fires, the Associated Press reports.

What started the Australia fires?

There wasn't one single spark that triggered Australia's onslaught of brushfires. The country typically has a fire season, running from December to March for the southeastern portion of the nation.

This year, extremely hot, dry conditions have fueled the fires. According to the nation's Bureau of Meteorology, 2019 was both the hottest and driest year ever measured in Australia.

"Under these conditions, it is not at all surprising that extreme wildfires have been running out of control," said Robert Rohde, a lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, a climate research organization. 

December was particularly harsh in Australia, as it was one of the top two hottest months on record for the nation. 

Human-caused climate change is also playing a role in the fires as it bumps up the odds for extreme heat. 

"There are many drivers of wildfires, but its increasingly clear that hotter, drier conditions play a big role in making them worse," said Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at Berkeley Earth. 

"Southern Australia has seen rapid warming of around 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1950, making conditions ripe for devastating fires," he said.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the location of the nation's capital of Canberra. It's located in the Australian Capital Territory.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Australia fires what to know: Map, animals, evacuations, deaths

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