2020 Photo Contest, Spot News, 2nd Prize

Australia’s Bushfire Crisis


Matthew Abbott

Panos Pictures, for The New York Times

31 December, 2019

A kangaroo tries to escape a wildfire, near a burning house in Lake Conjola, New South Wales, Australia.

The annual fire season in Australia began early and was exceptionally severe—following months of record-breaking drought and fanned by strong winds. Far stronger wildfires than usual, mostly battled by volunteer firefighters, raged through New South Wales and Victoria as well as areas in South Australia and Queensland, laying waste to bushland and rainforest and destroying homes. By the end of January 2020, more than 30 people had been killed, 3,000 homes lost, and around 12.6 million hectares of land burned (nearly three times the size of the Netherlands). Wildlife was harshly hit. Local scientists estimated that up to one billion animals perished, and more than 50% of the Gondwana rainforest traversing New South Wales and Queensland was burned. In December, while the intensity and speed at which many bushfires were spreading increased, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison went on holiday to Hawaii, and was prompted to return only after the death of two volunteer firefighters. He continued to champion a pro-fossil-fuel policy and held back from linking the fires to the climate crisis.

About the photographer

Matthew Abbott

Matthew Abbott (1984) is a storyteller and photojournalist based in Sydney. He specializes in identifying, researching and executing in-depth long form visual stories. ...

Technical information

Shutter Speed

This image is collected in