Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says his government is willing to pay “whatever it takes” to help communities recover from deadly wildfires ravaging the country. Meanwhile, officials warn that Australia’s wildfire season—which usually lasts through March—is nowhere near over.
Nationwide, at least 25 people have been killed and 2,000 homes destroyed by Australia’s blazes. So far, the fires have scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland.
“The fires are still burning. And they’ll be burning for months to come,” Morrison says. “If more is needed and the cost is higher, then more will be provided.”
Wildfires are common during the Southern Hemisphere summer, and Australians generally take a no-nonsense view of them. But this year’s fires arrived unusually early, fed by drought and the country’s hottest and driest year on record.
Yesterday’s rain and cooler temperatures brought some relief. But the rain also impeded fire crews. Firefighters are hoping to complete strategic burns as they prepare for even higher temperatures later in the week.
Heavy smoke hampered the navy’s efforts to airlift people out of Mallacoota, a coastal town in Victoria. Blazes cut the town off for days and forced about 4,000 residents and tourists to shelter on beaches over the weekend.
More than 135 fires are still burning across New South Wales, including almost 70 that are not contained. Officials warn that rain won’t put out the largest and most dangerous blazes before conditions worsen again.
“We’ve got big fire danger coming our way toward the end of this week,” says Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews. “We are by no means out of this. And the next few days, and indeed the next few months, are going to be challenging.”
(Plant operators Duncan Keith and Sapper Ian Larner of the 22nd Engineer Regiment use a backhoe to assist staff from Australia’s Forestry Management Victoria to clear fire damaged trees. Department of Defence via AP)