Courtney, 19, died from a bushfire-provoked asthma attack. She's just one of an unknown number.

At least 27 people have died this bushfire season.

More than a billion animals have perished in the flames.

We’ve lost thousands of homes, and millions of hectares of Australian bushland.

But we’ll never know the full death toll from the current disaster that is still unfolding on our shores.

Sidenote: Here’s Celeste Barber’s mother-in-law on the devastating bushfires. Post continues after video.

Video by Celeste Barber

Millions of Australians have been breathing in toxic air for months now. While many of us have been able to take shelter indoors, in some areas, the smoke is particularly bad. Then there’s our firefighters, who have been breathing it in all day every day, since November.

Over the weekend it was confirmed 19-year-old Courtney Partridge-McLennan’s death in November was the result of an asthma attack brought on by the bushfire smoke.

“Tammy, Chris and Courtney’s sister Cherylleigh don’t want her passing to go unnoticed against the backdrop of these fires. They wish to raise awareness of the seriousness of asthma, the risks to people with asthma and the dangers of bushfire smoke, so no one else has to go through what they’re experiencing,” wrote Asthma Australia in a statement on Facebook.

“We don’t know how many other lives have been lost to the bushfire smoke or who these people are. We appeal for all families who have suffered a loss from the bushfire smoke to be acknowledged as soon as possible, and gain access to support like all families who have tragically lost loved ones to these fires,” they added.

Courtney’s body was found by her parents the morning of November 29 in Glenn Innes New South Wales. She was living in the granny flat out the back of their property, and the night before “the smoke came in so heavy you could not even see the hospital across the road,” her sister told The Sunday Telegraph.


“Police said it must have been quick because she had her phone torch on and her Ventolin [inhaler] on the bed. It must have been so quick because she would have gone to mum and dad,” Cherylleigh Patridge told the publication.

We were told that for everyone, respiratory conditions or not, the smoke would leave us with sinus symptoms, raspy coughs and sore throats.

But Courtney’s death shows the wider ramifications. Side effects that will continue not just now while the smoke is present – but years down the track.

How many respiratory deaths in our country’s future will be traced back to this current relentless bushfire event?

One in nine Australians have asthma  – that’s around 2.7 million people, according to Asthma Australia.

The AIWH says there were 441 deaths due to asthma in Australia in 2017. How many deaths this year and the next and the next will be attributed to bushfire effects?

As Asthma Australia points out in the tweet above, we’re exposing ourselves to hazardous pollutants. It’s a threat to public health.

Millions of Australians have been breathing in toxic smoke over summer. Image: Getty.

John Quiggin, a Senior Fellow at the University of Queensland, writes for Inside Story: "The most dangerous component of bushfire smoke are tiny particulates, no more than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, known as PM2.5.

"Over the past twenty years, studies have shown that high levels of PM2.5 have contributed to millions of premature deaths in highly polluted cities like Beijing and Delhi. Sydney, Canberra and other Australian cities have recently joined this list."

As Quiggin points out, "in 2016 alone, exposure to PM2.5 contributed to an estimated 4.1 million deaths worldwide from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease and respiratory infections."

He suggests that the actual total number of human deaths from the current bushfires will be more than a thousand.

Of the deaths that have been recorded so far, many weren't actually caused by the bushfires themselves. Not directly from the flames anyway.

David Harrison died earlier this month from a heart attack while transporting water to help a mate fighting a fire in Batlow. He had no prior heart conditions.

David Harrison
David Harrison died in Batlow. Image: Facebook.

The ripple effects and consequent deaths from this disaster will continue for years - decades even.

When it comes to calculating the animal death toll, it's the same story. We've got an estimate, but the true loss of animals, plant species and delicate Australian ecosystems can never truly be calculated.

We do know we've lost around 30 per cent of the koala population in New South Wales, and that's only so far.

But we've lost more than koalas, kangaroos, and cattle. We've also lost millions of spiders, insects and birds. All equally as important for the functioning of our usually thriving Australian bushland.

Counting the death toll from the bushfire disaster unravelling in Australia is something we'll be doing long after the fires stop burning.

The tangible figures we are currently looking at are only going to continue to rise.

But when this is over, and we're looking at recovery efforts instead of rescue efforts, we must ensure there is a proper plan in place to tackle climate-based emergencies in the future.

This is our new reality. We need to protect our future.

READ: A complete letter to send to your local MP, urging them to act in the wake of Australia's bushfires.

If you want to help, you can donate funds to the organisations below:

... And there's more.

Mamamia Out Loud, our bi-weekly podcast, is coming to Melbourne for a live show, with 100 per cent of all ticket proceeds going to the Australian Red Cross disaster relief and recovery fund.

It's a brand new show, full of laughs and news and opinions and a few special surprises, with Mia Freedman, Holly Wainwright and Jessie Stephens, on February the 11th. You can buy tickets right now at See you there! 

Feature image: Getty.