Toxic smoke from Australia’s deadly bushfire season killed over 400 people – more than 10 times the death toll from the blazes themselves

21 March 2020

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AUSTRALIA – More than 400 people died from smoke pollution and thousands more were rushed to hospital during Australia’s horror bushfire season, according to a new study.

In the first figures estimating the health impact of the blazes, the death toll from pollution is predicted to be over 10 times higher than the 33 lives lost by the fires.

More than 2,000 homes were destroyed and a billion animals perished as fires burned almost 20 million hectares across Australia’s south-east.

Sydney alone suffered through 81 days of poor or hazardous air quality in 2019, with the city blanketed by thick, toxic smoke.

Smoke pollution that blanketed Australia for months during the bushfire crisis caused 416 deaths and thousands of hospitalisations, according to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Smoke was responsible for 1,124 cardiovascular-related hospital admissions, 2,027 respiratory-related hospital admissions, and 1,305 asthma-related emergency room admissions, according to the study.

Most cases were in New South Wales, where thousands of residents were forced to flee their homes.

The study states smoke from bushfire-ravaged regions affected large numbers of people in NSW, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria.

‘The scale and duration of these bushfires was unprecedented in Australia,’ the report states.

‘Such fires have substantial social, ecological, and economic effects, including the effects on public health associated with smoke, such as premature mortality and exacerbation of cardio‐respiratory conditions.’

Lead author Fay Johnston, an epidemiologist at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, estimates 80 per cent of Australia’s population of about 25 million was blanketed by smoke this summer.

‘The fires were unprecedented in Australia’s history, in terms of vast amounts of smoke, the huge populations affected by the smoke and the long duration,’ she told the Guardian.

‘When you’re affecting millions of people in a small way, there are going to be enough people at high enough risk that you’re going to see really measurable rises in these health effects.’

The figures are ‘definitely alarming’, according to Chris Migliaccio, who studies the long-term effects of wildfire smoke at the University of Montana in Missoula and was not involved in the research.

The bushfire season was one of the worst in Australian history, destroying an estimated 18.6 million hectares and almost 6,000 buildings including 2,779 homes.

The 33 lives lost included 25 in NSW, three in South Australia and five in Victoria.

Earlier this month, NSW Rural Fire Service declared there were no fires in the state for the first time since July last year.


The national death toll of Australia’s 2019/2020 bushfire season was 33 as of Monday, March 2, with 25 confirmed deaths in New South Wales, three in South Australia and five in Victoria.


New South Wales:

Robert Lindsey, 77, and Gwen Hyde, 68, were found in their burned out Coongbar home near Casino on October 9th.


New South Wales:

The body of 85-year-old George Nole was found in a burnt out car near his home in Wytaliba, near Glen Innes.

Vivian Chaplain, a 69-year-old woman from Wytaliba, succumbed to her injuries in hospital after attempting in vain to save her home and animals from the blaze.

The body of 63-year-old Julie Fletcher was pulled from a scorched building in Johns River, north of Taree.

Barry Parsons, 58, was found in a shed at Willawarrin, near Kempsey.

Chris Savva, 64, died after his 4WD overturned near burnt-out South Arm bridge, near Nambucca Heads.

A 59-year-old man was founded sheltered in a Yarrowitch water tank on November 7. He died of injuries on December 29.


David Moresi, 69, died after being involved in a traffic incident while working at the at the Gelantipy fire in East Gippsland on November 30.


New South Wales:

Firefighters Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, and Geoffrey Keaton, 32, died on December 19 after a tree fell on their truck while they were travelling through Buxton, south of Sydney.

Samuel McPaul, 28, was battling a blaze in Jingellic, in Green Valley, about 70km east of Albury on the border of NSW and Victoria, on December 30 when a ‘fire tornado’ caused his 10-tonne firetruck to roll.

South Australia:

The body of 69-year-old Ron Selth was found in his Charleston home, which was destroyed by the Cudlee Creek blaze on December 21.


New South Wales:

Dairy farmer Patrick Salway, 29, and his father Robert, 63, died trying to save their property in Cobargo, near Bega, on December 31.

A 70-year-old man, named by local media as Laurie Andrew, was found dead outside a home at Yatte Yattah, west of Lake Conjola.

The body of a 70-year-old man was found in a burnt vehicle on a road off the Princes Highway at Yatte Yattah on the morning of New Year’s Day.

The body of a 62-year-old man was found in a vehicle on Wandra Road at Sussex Inlet about 11.30am on New Year’s Day.

A body, believed to be a 56-year-old man, found outside a home at Coolagolite, east of Cobargo on New Year’s Day.

An off-duty RFS firefighter, believed to be 72-year-old Colin Burns, was found near a car in Belowra after the New Year’s Eve fires swept through.


Beloved great-grandfather Mick Roberts, 67, from Buchan, in East Gippsland, was found dead at his home on the morning of New Year’s Day.

Fred Becker, 75, was the second person to die in Victoria. He suffered a heart attack while trying to defend his Maramingo Creek home.


New South Wales:

David Harrison, a 47-year-old man from Canberra, suffered a heart attack defending his friend’s home near Batlow on Saturday, January 4.

A 71-year-old man was found on January 6. Police have been told the man was last sighted on December 31, 2019 and was moving equipment on his property in Nerrigundah.

An 84-year-old man who stayed to defend his home in Cobargo, NSW, dies in hospital three weeks after fire hit. His pet dog Bella, who stayed by his side as fires raged, was also killed in the disaster.

Three American firefighters are killed when Coulson Aviation C-130 Hercules water bomber Zeus crashed while fighting fires near Cooma on Thursday January 23. They have been named as Capt. Ian H. McBeth, 44, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr, 43.

On January 24, Michael Clark, 59, was found in a Bodalla home destroyed by bushfires near the NSW South Coast town of Moruya.


Forest Fire Management firefighter Mat Kavanagh, 43, was killed Friday January 3 when he was involved in a two-car crash on the Goulburn Valley Highway.

Bill Slade, a 60-year-old father of two from Wonthaggi was fighting fires with Parks Victoria at Omeo when he died on January 11. He has been remembered as one of the longest serving, most experienced and fittest firefighters.

South Australia:

Well-known outback pilot Dick Lang, 78, and his 43-year-old son, Adelaide surgeon Clayton Lang, died in the Kangaroo Island bushfire after their car was trapped by flames.

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