Children play in the southern New South Wales town of Bega, where they are camping after being evacuated, on Dec. 31, 2019.
Sean Davey!AFP/Getty Images

Australia Is Burning: Scenes From a Deadly Season of Bushfires

January 7, 2020

Fires across Australia have burned more than 12 million acres, marking one of the country’s worst bushfire seasons on record. Bushfires are an annual occurrence on the continent, but drought conditions and unprecedented heat have intensified the fires and drawn global attention.

More than 20 people have died in the blazes — including firefighters — and almost 2,000 homes have been destroyed. Prime Minister Scott Morrison called up some 3,000 military reservists on Jan. 4 to help deal with the disaster as temperatures soared to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in one Sydney suburb. Thousands have been forced to flee their homes in the country’s southeastern region, where slightly cooler temperatures and some rain are now offering shades of relief.

Haze from the fires has engulfed Sydney and Melbourne and even parts of New Zealand more than 1,000 miles away. Huge tracts of forests have been burned. One researcher, in a widely shared figure, projected that as many as 480 million animals have been killed or would die in the state of New South Wales alone.

Morrison has faced criticism for his response to the crisis and his stance on climate change. While he has acknowledged that climate change could be creating the weather conditions that have made this bushfire season one of the most disastrous on record, he has argued that there is no direct link between Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and the severity of the fires.

For months, he has been met by desperate scenes across his country: human beings and animals fleeing their homes and habitats, large swathes of scorched earth and orange smoke-filled skies.

Warning: Some of the following images are graphic in nature and might be disturbing to some viewers.

A kangaroo rushes past a burning house in Lake Conjola on Dec. 31, 2019.
Matthew Abbott!The New York Times/Redux
The sky turned orange in Mildura on Nov. 21, 2019.
Courtesy of Petra Johansson!AFP/Getty Images
A home lost to a bushfire in Buxton, as the Green Wattle Creek Fire threatens a number of communities, on Dec. 19, 2019.
Dean Lewins!EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
The area of Orbost, under threat from the East Gippsland fires, on Jan. 1.
Jason Edwards!Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
People stranded in Mallacoota, Victoria, are evacuated by the Australian military on Jan. 3 after bushfires ravaged the town.
Justin McManus!The Age/Fairfax Media/Getty Images
A burned fence in Lake Conjola on Jan. 5. The community was devastated by flames in late December.
Adam Ferguson for TIME
Golfers on the green next to a bushfire-damaged area in Peregian Beach, on the Sunshine Coast, on Sept. 10, 2019.
Dan Peled!EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
A resident puts down a cow that was severely wounded after a bushfire in Coolagolite, New South Wales, on Jan. 1.
Sean Davey!EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Water is dumped from a helicopter on a small fire in Hillville, New South Wales, on Nov. 12, 2019.
Matthew Abbott!The New York Times/Redux
A palm tree blackened by fire in Glen Innes, New South Wales, on Nov. 11, 2019.
Brook Mitchell!Getty Images
A cemetery recently hit by bushfires near Mogo, New South Wales, on Jan. 5.
Adam Ferguson for TIME
Bats fly through a smoke-filled sky above a highway between Ulladulla and Batemans Bay in New South Wales on Jan. 4.
Adam Ferguson for TIME
Tourists in Lake Conjola, a popular holiday destination in Australia, take refuge from wildfires on a beach from wildfires on Dec. 31, 2019.
Matthew Abbott!The New York Times/Redux
A resident looks at destroyed buildings in Cobargo, New South Wales, on Jan. 1.
Sean Davey!EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital volunteer Barbara Barrett treats a bushfire survivor, Baz, on Dec. 6, 2019.
Michaela Skovranova
A Country Fire Authority crew member rests after a day of maintaining controlled back burns in St Albans on Nov. 21, 2019.
Brett Hemmings!Getty Images
A bushfire along Putty Road in Colo Heights, New South Wales, on Nov. 15, 2019.
Brett Hemmings!Getty Images
A bushfire burns through properties in Rainbow Flat, New South Wales, on Nov. 9, 2019.
Dean Sewell!The Sydney Morning Herald/Getty Images
Fire and rescue officers try to contain a bushfire near Kioloa, New South Wales, on Dec. 3, 2019.
Dean Lewins!EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
A firefighter washes a truck covered by pink fire retardant in South Turramurra, New South Wales, on Nov. 12, 2019.
Bai Xuefei!Xinhua/eyevine/Redux
A destroyed house along The Ridge Road between Batemans Bay and Surf Beach on Jan. 3.
Matthew Abbott!The New York Times/Redux
A dumped vintage TV remains intact along Putty Road after devastating fires tore through areas near Colo Heights on Nov. 14, 2019.
Brett Hemmings!Getty Images
Mim, a female Eastern Grey Kangaroo, was hand-fed by a local family and decided to take shelter in their home on the outskirts of Kulnura, New South Wales, on Dec. 6, 2019.
Matthew Abbott!The Guardian/eyevine/Redux

Write to Amy Gunia at amy.gunia@time.com.