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Earth on the Edge: How the extremes of drought, heat and wind destroy Australian rainforests

When I came to Australia at the end October to report on drought people were concerned about the bushfire season.

The fires started early last year and they usually don’t take hold until the summer season - December or January - but they had started in Winter.

What we’ve seen in recent weeks has gone beyond even their worst fears.

Millions of acres of land have been ravaged by fires, thousands of homes have been destroyed, 28 lives have been lost and some are estimating more than one billion animals have perished.

They are air dropping sweet potatoes and carrots onto national park land on Monday night where they believe some animals have survived the fires but will have nothing left to eat.

  • Debi Edward explains how fires have ravaged millions of acres of land

There’s a combination of three factors which have created this climate crisis in Australia.

The lack of moisture and rainfall has caused a severe and protracted drought that has dried out leaves, sticks and soil on the bush floor.

The country has seen a steady increase in average temperatures, hitting its highest temperature on record of 41.9C in December.

The effects of those two factors have been compounded by unusually strong and fluctuating winds.

Water usage warnings are in place in Australian towns like Bellingen. Credit: ITV News

What has partly made the most recent bushfires so hard to contain, and caused the danger to increase, has been unpredictable wind directions.

We travelled to the north of Sydney to visit a part of New South Wales which shouldn’t be affected by drought and not to a great extent by bushfires.

But this year towns like Bellingen have seen both.

They are on level four (on a scale up to five) of water restrictions and they are looking at solutions to secure their drinking water.

Rainforests in parts of Australia have been ravaged by fires unlike ever before. Credit: ITV News

The Mayor said their supplies are low and he’s planning a desalination plant, where salt can be extracted from sea water, to guarantee a future supply.

He fears the conditions the country is seeing now could be just the start.

Further inland, as you drive into the town of Tamworth there are signs warning of the level five water restrictions they are facing.

A sign on the side of the road asks people to conserve water from their shower, wash for no longer than three minutes and reuse all of the water used to wash their dishes and even their clothes.

They’ve had no substantial rain for over two years, rivers and dams in the area have reached critically low levels.

Liz tells Debi Edward that 'life has been hell' living in a drought. Credit: ITV News

If the usual downpours of this season don’t come soon they could be facing "Day Zero" in matter of weeks.

That’s when they declare they have officially run out of water. Right across the state of New South Wales there are dozens of towns and villages preparing for that eventuality.

Ecologist Mark Graham has been studying the changes in the ecosystem of his home town of Bellingen, NSW Australia, for nearly three decades.

It's one of the wettest parts of Australia and it's rainy season but there has been no rainfall for weeks.

He shows us the Bellingen river, that supplies the town, running dry just 45 minutes drive away and describes the impact on the community and the environment.

It's a process that's happening far quicker, he says, than anyone had imaged possible and fears that Australia is "at the forefront of climate chaos".

Australia is a vast country with hugely diverse landscapes. It is used to extreme weather conditions.

But what were once isolated events appear to have evolved into a longer term trend.

This is a country battling to comprehend and contain, its new climate reality.