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More than 5 million hectares of land – about 12.5 million acres – have been decimated, at least a half-billion animals killed, thousands of homes destroyed and at least 23 people have lost their lives as out-of-control fires continue to ravage Australia.

Farmers in the main affected states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria are fighting with all they have to try to save homes, farms and animals – but with little success. Some farmers in the main hot spots have been cut off from towns. They are quickly running out of water, food and diesel. Without diesel they cannot run their generators or vehicles. They’re subsequently losing any form of communication as no power means no Wi-Fi and no phone charging.

Horrendous photos have emerged of hundreds of farm animals lying dead on roads or by field boundaries, unable to escape the infernos.

Some residents where the ferocious fires took hold said they had no chance to save their properties as “fireballs came through at up to 100 kilometers per hour.” That’s about 62 miles per hour. Sadly a number of people were killed fighting the fires or trying to escape them.

While farmers said they prepared for the fires as much as they could, they couldn’t save all their animals. Some have been forced to shoot livestock because they have been badly injured by the flames.

One of the biggest problems that have emerged for farmers is safely disposing of all the dead carcasses before they rot and cause biosecurity issues. Thousands of cattle and sheep have perished along with other animals; all need to be gathered quickly.

Michael Guerin, chief executive officer of Agforce, said, “Rotting animals on the roads, not only do they smell, but they attract infection and disease. If that gets out of control, it’s very hard to rein in.

“Australia has an incredibly strong and good agricultural industry, and part of the reason for it is because of the biosecurity strengths we have. So the way we deal with this will be very important. Not only for domestic consumers of food, but for international markets to see that when we face these challenges, we respect the needs of strong biosecurity – so that they can have confidence to continue to buy food from Australia.”

Dairy farmers in particular have been badly affected. Milk trucks in some areas cannot reach the farms. Farmers are running out of fuel to milk the cows with generators -- because power lines are down.

With so many areas affected by the fires, the fear is the fires could worsen; the peak heatwave season is yet to come.

Meanwhile Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been heavily criticized for his handling of the fires. But he’s defended his government’s actions.

“Blame doesn’t help anybody at this time and over-analysis of these things is not a productive exercise,” he said.

The Prime Minister called up 3,000 military reservists and announced Aus$14 million – US$10 million -- in funding to help fund the leasing of four new water-bombing aircraft to fight the fires. Millions of dollars of aid have also been raised via a number of online initiatives, which saw people from all around the world donating into them.

With 16 years experience behind him, award-winning agricultural journalist Chris McCullough is always on the hunt for his next story. He grew up on the family dairy farm in the heart of Northern Ireland and is based on the country’s east coast. He travels around the world to bring readers international news.

This article originally ran on Content Exchange