Rain yesterday fell across parts of bushfire-ravaged eastern Australia and more wet weather was forecast, giving some relief following months of catastrophic blazes fueled by climate change.
The fires, unprecedented for Australia in terms of duration and intensity, have claimed 28 lives and killed an estimated 1 billion animals.
Sustained hot weather and only very rare periods of light rain in the affected areas have deepened the crisis.
Authorities had been looking forward to this week’s rain, hoping that it would help contain or even extinguish some fires.
In New South Wales (NSW), where many of the worst fires have burned, there were “good falls” on some blazes early yesterday, the local meteorology bureau reported.
“Relief is here for a number of firefighters working across NSW,” the NSW Rural Fire Service said in a social media post accompanying video footage of rain falling in a burning forest.
“Although this rain won’t extinguish all fires, it will certainly go a long way towards containment,” it added.
Before the rains, there were 30 blazes burning out of control in the state.
Smoke from bushfires had also choked the southern city of Melbourne from Monday to Wednesday, disrupting the buildup to next week’s Australian Open tennis tournament.
However, thunderstorms late on Wednesday cleared the smoke, with the wet weather then moving east toward fires in the southern state of Victoria.
“Storms have improved air quality in most parts of the state,” the Victorian Environment Protection Agency said.
More rain was also forecast for today and the weekend that, if it does occur, would be the most sustained period of wet weather since the crisis began in September last year.
“This will be all of our Christmas, birthday, engagement, anniversary, wedding and graduation presents rolled into one. Fingers crossed,” the NSW Rural Fire Service said earlier this week in reference to the forecast wet weather.
The fires have destroyed more than 2,000 homes and burned 10 million hectares of land — an area larger than South Korea or Portugal.
Australia endures bushfires every year, but they started much earlier than normal last year and have lasted far longer.
Forests and farming land were already extremely dry due to a prolonged drought, providing the foundations for the fire crisis when extreme hot weather hit well before the southern summer.
Last year was Australia’s driest and hottest year on record, with its highest average maximum temperature of 41.9°C recorded in the middle of last month.
Scientists have said that the bushfires are the type of extreme disaster the world can expect more of as global warming intensifies.
The past decade was the hottest on record globally, the UN said on Wednesday.
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