The raging bushfires that have destroyed millions of acres of Australian land, killed “thousands of koalas” and perhaps as many as 500 million animals are so devastating they can be seen from space.

The Regional and Mesoscale Meteorology Branch (RAMMB) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration posted this image to its website showing the widespread fires.

One of the largest evacuations in Australia’s history was underway Friday ahead of hot weather and strong winds that are forecast to worsen devastating wildfires raging across the country.

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More than 200 fires were burning and warnings of extreme danger to come Saturday prompted mass evacuations. Traffic was gridlocked as people fled and firefighters escorted convoys of evacuees as fires threatened to close roads. Navy ships were called in to pluck hundreds of people stranded on beaches.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews declared a disaster across much of the eastern part of the state, allowing the government to order evacuations in an area with as many as 140,000 permanent residents and tens of thousands more vacationers.

“If you can leave, you must leave,” Andrews said.

Tens of thousands of people were ordered to leave parts of Australia’s wildfire-ravaged eastern coast ahead of worsening conditions as the heat also appeared to be turning up on the country’s prime minister for his handling of the crisis.

Authorities in the New South Wales state on Thursday morning ordered tourists to leave a 155-mile zone along the country’s south coast that’s popular during the summer holiday season, warning people “do not be in this area on Saturday.”

State Transport Minister Andrew Constance said it is the “largest mass relocation of people out of the region that we’ve ever seen.”

The early and devastating start to Australia’s summer wildfires has made this season the worst on record. About 5 million hectares (12.35 million acres) of land have burned, at least 19 people have been killed and more than 1,400 homes have been destroyed.

Smoke from the wildfires has choked air quality and turned daytime skies to near-nighttime darkness in the worst-hit areas.

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Sydney University ecologist Chris Dickman told the Sydney Morning Herald nearly 500 million birds, reptiles and mammals are likely to have perished in New South Wales alone. Frogs, bats and insects are excluded from his estimate, making the toll on animals much greater.

The nation’s agricultural sector also suffered untallied losses. Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said in addition to their livestock dying, farmers were also struggling to feed animals with their supply chains disrupted.

As part of mass casualties in the animal population, thousands of koalas are feared to have died in the wildfires raging in parts of Australia, with officials saying they believe up to a third of the iconic marsupial population may have been lost.

The mid-northern coast of New South Wales was home to up to 28,000 koalas before the blazes began scorching the region last month. Sussan Ley, Australia’s environment minister, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last week that “up to 30 percent of their habitat has been destroyed.”

The smoke has also blown across the Tasman Sea into New Zealand, where skies are hazy and glaciers have turned a deep caramel brown. The color change may cause more melting since the glaciers will reflect less sunlight.

Source: New York Post

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