Cooler Weather Helps Quell Wildfires That Left at Least 24 Dead

By Jason Gale | January 7, 2020

Firefighters are taking advantage of cooler weather to quell southeastern Australia’s wildfires that have killed at least 24 people and prompted stirring messages from stars at the Golden Globes.

Some 130 blazes across New South Wales are being fought by about 2,000 firefighters, the state’s Rural Fire Service said Tuesday. Containment efforts enabled residents in the Bega Valley, one of the worst-hit areas, to return to their homes after searing temperatures and powerful winds over the weekend expanded the area razed to more than 5 million hectares (12.3 million acres) across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia alone.

Some 1,588 homes have been destroyed in New South Wales, including 653 in 2020, the Rural Fire Service said. The Australian government has pledged A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) over two years to assist recovery efforts, focused on repairing infrastructure and boosting mental-health care. Prominent Australian residents, including actor Russell Crowe, called for more action on climate change to mitigate the risks of more devastating infernos.

“Make no mistake, the tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate-change based,” Crowe said in a message read at the Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles Monday, where stars including Ellen DeGeneres, Pierce Brosnan and Cate Blanchett used the stage to send heartwarming messages to Australia.

New Zealand-born Crowe, 55, was unable to accept an award for his role in “The Loudest Voice” because he was at his fire-affected farm in New South Wales. “We need to act on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is,” his message read. “That way, we all have a future.”

Tinderbox Conditions

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced criticism for his belated response in pooling national resources to combat the fires. On Monday he again signaled his conservative government won’t toughen policies to combat climate change, which has been blamed for exacerbating a crippling drought that’s helped create tinderbox conditions.

In Victoria, where about 200 homes were destroyed, emergency services had 39 public warnings in place as of 10:15 a.m. local time Tuesday advising residents about wildfires or air quality concerns, and detailed 77 specific fire incidents in the state.

Fires continue to burn on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, where two people died in a blaze that engulfed a third of the island, devastating the national park and farmland and severely damaging the luxury Southern Ocean Lodge resort.

About the photo: Firefighters manage a controlled burn to help contain a larger fire near Falls Creek, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020. The deadly wildfires, which have been raging since September, have already burned about 5 million hectares (12.35 million acres) of land and destroyed more than 1,500 homes. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

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