NEWS
21/12/2019 12:36 GMT

'As Bad As It Gets': Australian Bushfires Reach 'Catastrophic' Levels

Firefighters have warned the blazes will rage until significant rainfall arrives – which could be months away.

Bushfires in Australia have reached “catastrophic” levels, with little hope of respite as the severe heatwave continues. 

The disaster has claimed another life in South Australia, as one person was confirmed to have been killed after 13 homes were destroyed by fire around 25 miles from the state capital of Adelaide. 

It follows the deaths of two volunteer firefighters who were battling blazes in the country’s most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) on Thursday.

Around three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has burnt nationwide during a torrid bushfire season, with nine people killed and more than 800 homes destroyed.

Catastrophic fire conditions have been declared in NSW as temperatures were forecast to reach 47C (115F) in western Sydney on Saturday.

NSW Rural Fire Services commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said: “Catastrophic fire conditions are as bad as it gets.

“Given we have a landscape with so much active fire burning, you have a recipe for very serious concern and a very dangerous day.”

With close to 100 fires were burning across NSW, the RFS said some fires were generating their own thunderstorms. Conditions were expected to improve in coming days, before another burst of hot weather in about a week.

“We will not get on top of these fires until we get some decent rain - we have said that for weeks and months,” Fitzsimmons said.

No significant rainfall was expected in the next couple of months, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

In South Australia, authorities said 23 firefighters and several police have also suffered, as more than 40,000 hectares (98,842 acres) of land burnt.

 “It is going to be a real scene of devastation, especially for those people in the Adelaide Hills who have been most affected,” South Australia premier Steven Marshall said.

“We know that in addition to the buildings and vehicles lost there are very significant losses in terms of livestock, animals, crops, vineyards.”

The fires are also severely impacting air quality, with thick smoke sprawling far beyond the reach of the flames and reducing visibility in major cities such as Sydney. 

The annual Australian fire season, which peaks during the southern hemisphere’s summer, started early after an unusually warm and dry winter.

The devastation has put pressure on prime minister Scott Morrison, who has received criticism for going on a family holiday in Hawaii during the wildfires crisis.

He apologised on Friday for “any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time”.

He cut short his holiday and returned home on Saturday night. He is due to visit the New South Wales Rural Fire Service headquarters on Sunday.

Debate has reignited on whether Morrison’s conservative government has taken enough action on climate change. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas.

Fatih Birol, International Energy Agency executive director, believed Australia had missed opportunities to mitigate the impact of coal.

“I find the Australian energy debate far too emotional, far too nervous and far too hot. It is hotter than the climate change itself,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Morrison, who critics have deemed a climate change sceptic, conceded earlier this month that “climate change along with many other factors” contributed to the wildfires.