Australian ‘megablaze’ under control

LONG, HARD ROAD: Rural fire service firefighter Trevor Stewart in Tumburumba, Australia, on Saturday
LONG, HARD ROAD: Rural fire service firefighter Trevor Stewart in Tumburumba, Australia, on Saturday


Exhausted firefighters said they had finally brought Australia’s largest “megablaze” under control on Monday, as wet weather promised to deliver a much-needed respite for the countryside ravaged by bushfires.

New South Wales firefighters said they finally had the upper hand in the fight against the vast Gospers Mountain fire on Sydney’s northwestern outskirts, which has been burning for almost three months.

Visiting the area on Monday, New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said there was a small area of burning still to complete but the containment prognosis looked promising.

The fire seared an area of national park three times the size of Greater London and lit several connected blazes totalling more than 800,000ha. 

As residents and authorities continued to come to grips with the sheer scale of the devastation, the Bureau of Meteorology forecast some fire-ground areas could get up to 50mm of rain in the next week, a relief after a prolonged drought.

If that forecast bears out, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said it would be “all of our Christmas, birthday, engagement, anniversary, wedding and graduation presents rolled into one. Fingers crossed”.

Dozens of other fires are yet to be controlled.

The climate change-fuelled fires have prompted an international outpouring and donations from around the world to help communities and animal populations.

Australia’s unique flora and fauna has taken a catastrophic hit, with an estimated one billion animals killed, and countless trees and shrubs burnt away.

The country’s environment minister, Sussan Ley, has warned that in some areas, koalas may have to be reclassified as endangered.

The government has earmarked an initial A$50m (about R495m) to spend on helping with the wildlife recovery.

“This has been an ecological disaster, a disaster that is still unfolding,” treasurer Josh Frydenberg said, announcing the emergency fund.

This weekend, Sydney will host a charity gig to benefit fire services, the Red Cross and animal welfare organisations.

Headliners include Alice Cooper, Olivia Newton-John and Queen.

The political effects of the bushfires are also coming into sharper relief.

A poll released on Monday showed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approval ratings have nosedived in the face of widespread anger over his handling of the deadly crisis.

The Newspoll survey showed 59% of Australian voters are dissatisfied with the conservative leader’s performance overall, and only 37% were satisfied, an abrupt reversal since his shock election win in May 2019.

Morrison has been sharply criticised for his response to the months-long crisis, which included making a series of gaffes and misleading statements about his government’s actions, and forcing angry victims to shake his hand.

Morrison began the crisis insisting local authorities had enough resources to handle the fires and exhausted volunteer firefighters “want to be there”. 

He also repeatedly said Australia was doing more than enough to meet its emission reduction targets, prompting a series of large-scale street protests.

Seeing  a backlash, Morrison has since deployed the military, launched the largest peacetime call-up of reserves, pledged billions of dollars in aid, increased payments to firefighters, and suggested more work may need to be done on emissions. — AFP

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