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Australia fires: Rain brings relief but huge blazes expected

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Media captionAustralia’s capital Canberra is engulfed in smoke

Rain has fallen in fire-ravaged parts of Australia and temperatures have dropped – but officials have warned that blazes will “take off” again.

Sooty rain fell down the east coast, from Sydney to Melbourne, with “torrential” rain reported in some parts of New South Wales (NSW).

But on Sunday night officials warned temperatures would rise by Thursday.

They also said huge fires in Victoria and New South Wales could meet to create a larger “mega blaze”.

“There is no room for complacency,” NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned on Monday morning.

“This morning it is all about recovery, making sure people who have been displaced have somewhere safe.”

Despite the respite, haze pollution remained dangerously high.

The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra was shut on Monday “to mitigate any risk to the public, staff and works of art on display”. The Australian National University in the capital is also closed.

Further south, Victoria’s Bureau of Meteorology warned that visibility in Melbourne was less than 1km (0.62 miles) in many parts of the city and its surroundings.

The easing of conditions meant valuable supplies could be taken to affected areas.

The Australian Army said it sent supplies, personnel, and vehicles to Kangaroo Island off the coast of Adelaide. The island has been devastated by the bushfires, with two people killed last week.

The army also sent out reconnaissance and assistance missions in NSW and Victoria.

The weekend saw some of the worst days of the crisis so far, with hundreds more properties destroyed. Rural towns and major cities saw red skies, falling ash and smoke that clogged the air.

But by Monday, there were no emergency warnings in fire-ravaged states, following the weather change.

Victoria state had 25 “watch and act” alerts and South Australia had one “watch and act” alert.

In NSW, all fires were back at the “advice” level, the lowest alert level, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

However, Victoria Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp warned “it will warm up” and the fires “will take off again”.

On Monday morning, there were only around 10km between a blaze in Victoria’s Corryong and two burning at Kosciuszko National Park in NSW.

“This will be a changing, dynamic situation,” he said, warning it was “inevitable” the fires would join across the border.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said A$2bn ($1.4bn; $1.1bn) would be committed to recovery over the next two years.

Turning from orange to grey

Simon Atkinson, BBC News in Eden, NSW

With its drizzle and grey horizon, the wharf at Eden could almost be an English coastal town.

It’s hard to fathom that on Saturday night – as fire threatened and skies turned orange – this was where hundreds of people fled for the feeling of safety that came with being near water.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption This is what Eden, NSW, looked like on Saturday
Image copyright BBC Simon Atkinson
Image caption Rain falls on the HMAS Adelaide in Eden on Monday

Most have now left. Some to their homes as the fire threat eased. Others to evacuation centres in bigger towns after authorities warned the wharf really wasn’t a safe option.

The rain is a welcome surprise, and has given some respite from the smoke-filled air.

But with hot dry conditions predicted later in the week, Eden’s people – like many in this corner if the country – are in limbo.

And the navy ship lurking off the coast – poised to help in rescue mission – is another reminder this is far from over.

Australia is fighting one of its worst bushfire seasons, fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of drought.

The country has always experienced bushfires but this year they are a lot worse than normal.

At the weekend, Mr Morrison warned the crisis might go on for months.

At least 24 people have died since the fires began in September. Air quality in the capital Canberra was recently rated the worst in the world.

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Media captionThe BBC’s Phil Mercer says Kangaroo Valley has “a horrible, ghostly feel”

Mr Morrison announced the creation of a recovery agency to help those who have lost homes and businesses in the fires.

He has faced fierce criticism for his response to the fires – including for taking a holiday to Hawaii during the crisis.

Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – and Mr Morrison’s Liberal Party colleague – said she thought the PM was “doing the best he can”, but said Canberra should show leadership on global climate change.

“We don’t have a national energy policy in this country and a national approach to climate change,” she said.

“If a country like Australia fails to show leadership, we can hardly blame other nations for not likewise showing leadership in this area.”


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Source: bbc.co.uk

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