Representatives of the Virgin Australia airline confirmed at approximately 17:50 (local time) on Wednesday, January 15, that bushfire smoke was affecting flight operations to and from Melbourne Airport (MEL). Approximately 50 flights were delayed or canceled on Wednesday. Further flight disruptions are expected in the coming hours; airport officials did not immediately indicate when operations may resume.
Over 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land have been burned, and at least 2000 houses destroyed since the wildfires broke out on October 9. At least 28 people have also died in the region as of January 13. Authorities have indicated that the fires were due to high temperatures and droughts.
Wildfires are an annual event in Australia between December and February; however, authorities have been on high alert since September 2015 over unseasonably warm temperatures, prompting scientists to speculate that climate change could be extending and increasing the intensity of the fire season.
Travelers flying via MEL are advised to confirm flight reservations prior to leaving for the airport and to contact their airline for additional information.
Individuals in the affected areas are advised to monitor local weather reports, keep abreast of warnings, anticipate transportation and power disruptions, confirm their flight status, and adhere to any instructions issued by local authorities, notably evacuation orders.