Australia braces for another day of wildfires as temperatures flare

Wayne Cole, Reuters

Posted at Jan 10 2020 06:23 AM

Koala stands in the field with bushfire burning in the background in Kangaroo Island, Australia, Jan. 9, 2020 in this still image obtained from social media. Paul Stanton, Paul's Place Wildlife Sanctuary/Reuters

SYDNEY—Authorities warned of extreme fire dangers in several parts of Australia on Friday as scorching heat and erratic winds are expected to fan deadly bushfires burning across the country, and likely spark new ones.

Twenty-seven people have been killed and thousands have been made homeless as the monster fires scorched through more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land, an area the size of South Korea.

Several towns and communities in the heavily populated southeastern region of the country have been advised to be alert and evacuate if needed.

"Today is a dynamic and dangerous day," said Andrew Crisp, emergency management commissioner for the state of Victoria, where several evacuation warnings were issued.

"We sent out an emergency alert, so text messaging to 240,000 people, basically across the east of the state. If you can get out, you should get out, you shouldn't be in the remote and forested parts of our State," Crisp told ABC News.

Temperatures are expected to shoot well above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in several parts of the country on Friday.

Fire bans were in place for 10 areas in neighboring New South Wales state, where the blazes have torched 1,870 homes.

The state's Rural Fire Service posted an update on Twitter saying there were "very high, severe and extreme fire dangers" in the region.

Authorities fear a southerly shift in winds due later in the day will fan the flames and change the direction of many fires. The winds themselves are strong enough to be classed as "damaging" and are expected to sweep across the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Parts of Kangaroo Island, a wildlife-rich tourist spot off the southeastern coast, were again evacuated and a town cut off as fire closed the only road. A third of the heavily forested island has already been turned to ash.

Residents of the coastal town of Mallacoota, where thousands of people were stranded on a beach for days until a military evacuation that only ended on Wednesday, were among those again advised to flee.

Australia's wildfires have dwarfed other catastrophic blazes around the world. Combining 2019 fires in California, Brazil and Indonesia still amounts to less than half the burnt area in Australia.

Ecologists at the University of Sydney have estimated 1 billion animals have been killed or injured in the bushfires.

Meanwhile, climate protests were planned for Melbourne on Friday targeting Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been slammed for his handling of the bushfires and his government's position on climate change.

Australia's government has maintained there is no direct link between climate change and the devastating bushfires.

Following are some highlights of what is happening in the bushfire crisis:

- Authorities have warned that the huge fires, spurred by high temperatures, wind and a 3-year drought, will persist until there is substantial rainfall. The weather agency said there was no sign of that for months.

- Moody's Analytics said the cost of the fires could easily surpass that of deadly 2009 Black Saturday fires that destroyed 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) of land, which cost an estimated A$4.4 billion.

- The prime minister has pledged A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) to a newly created National Bushfire Recovery Agency.

- About 100 firefighters from the United States and Canada are helping with another 140 expected in coming weeks.

- The fires have emitted 400 megatons of carbon dioxide and produced harmful pollutants, the European Union's Copernicus monitoring program said.

- Smoke has drifted across the Pacific, affecting cities in South America, and may have reached the Antarctic, the UN World Meteorological Organization said.