An expert labelled a blaze that has burnt approximately one-fifth of an Australian national park as an environmental disaster on Wednesday.
More than 100,000 hectares of land in central Australia’s MacDonnell Ranges have been burned in recent weeks, fuelled by a scorching March and three years of above-average rainfall that raised fuel loads, according to the Xinhua news agency.
The ranges’ impacted area includes 20% of the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell national park.
“The Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges wildfire is a tragedy,” Alex Vaughan, a policy officer at the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC), was quoted by the Guardian Australia as saying on Wednesday.
Tanya Plibersek, the Minister for Environment and Water, proclaimed the park a priority conservation area under the new government strategy to avoid new extinctions of Australian wildlife months ago.
“This is a place that Tanya Plibersek just last year recognised as one of the most important places nationally for threatened species conservation,” said Vaughan, adding that fires in the national park had come close to the habitat of the central rock rat, a critically endangered species that is only found in the region.
According to him, the flames were fueled by a three-year buildup of the invasive buffel grass.
The grass, which was introduced to Australia for pasture development, has expanded throughout central Australia into national parks, where it dramatically increases fire danger.
The federal and Northern Territory governments, according to Vaughan, have “totally failed” to address the issue.
South Australia is the only jurisdiction where the grass has been declared a weed.
“The consequences of this wildfire are devastating and, unfortunately, we are in for a long and tough fire season over the next 12 months,” Vaughan said.