Heavy rains contain last of Australia’s wildfires
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Heavy rains contain last of Australia’s wildfires

At least 33 people are dead and 3,000 homes destroyed in the wake of devastating blazes that raged in recent months

A firefighter in Australia hoses down trees to protect nearby homes from bush fires near the town of Nowra in the state of New South Wales on December 31, 2019 as the fires led to the evacuation of popular tourist areas in the state. (Saeed Kahn/AFP)
A firefighter in Australia hoses down trees to protect nearby homes from bush fires near the town of Nowra in the state of New South Wales on December 31, 2019 as the fires led to the evacuation of popular tourist areas in the state. (Saeed Kahn/AFP)

Heavy rains in the state of New South Wales this week contained the last of a series of deadly wildfires, some of them lasting for months, to plague Australia. The rains also marked the end of a 3-year drought that had dried up rivers and parched soil across the country.

“After what’s been a truly devastating fire season for both firefighters and residents, who have suffered through so much this season, all fires are now contained in New South Wales, which is great news,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers announced on Twitter.

“Not all fires are out, there is still some fire activity in the far south of the state but all fires are contained so we can all really focus on helping people rebuild.”

According to the NSW-RFS, the Lindfield Park Road fire near the Port Macquarie Airport, which had burned for 210 days, was extinguished by the heavy rains. It had “burnt through 858 hectares and 400 of that being peat soils under the surface,” the emergency services agency said on Wednesday.

On Saturday, authorities declared the Currowan fire south of Sydney was finally out after destroying more than 300 homes and razing 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) over two and a half months.

“This is the most positive news we’ve had in some time,” the New South Wales Rural Fire Service tweeted on Monday. ”The recent rainfall has assisted firefighters to put over 30 fires out since Friday. Some of these blazes have been burning for weeks and even months.”

In all, Australia’s wildfires killed at least 33 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes.

The fires began causing widespread destruction toward the end of 2019, which was both the hottest and the driest year in Australia’s recorded history, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

During the deluge over recent days, coastal areas have experienced some of the heaviest rainfalls, which has caused flash flooding in some places. Sydney, the central coast and the Blue Mountains received up to 400 millimeters (16 inches) since Friday, representing some of the heaviest falls in decades.

Dams in the greater Sydney area were more than 64% full on Monday after being only 42% full a week earlier, according to officials. More rain is forecast over the coming days.

But experts say it will take some time yet to know to what extent the rainfall has replenished dried-up rivers and quenched parched soil in some inland areas most affected by the 3-year drought.

A firefighter coats a bridge with foam as a bushfire burns near Moruya, New South Wales, Australia on January 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Quentin Grafton, an economics professor and water expert at Australian National University in Canberra, said the rain had broken the drought in some towns but had not fallen evenly across all the affected areas.

“At this stage, it’s very good news, and certainly much more than people could have wished for or expected,” he said of the rainfall. “There are some very happy people.”

Grafton said drought had badly affected an area of more than 1.5 million square kilometers (580,000 square miles), which is larger than the country of Ethiopia. He said monitoring on major rivers over the coming days should provide a clearer picture of how much the rain has helped.

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