Heavy rain fell across parts of fire-ravaged eastern Australia on Thursday, and more wet weather was forecast, giving some relief following months of catastrophic blazes fuelled by climate change.
The downpours of up to 50mm rain in the state of New South Wales, where many of the worst fires have burnt, offered hope that dozens of blazes could be finally brought under control.
The fires, unprecedented for Australia in terms of duration and intensity, have claimed 28 lives and killed an estimated billion animals. Sustained hot weather and rare periods of light rain in the affected areas have deepened the crisis.
“Relief is here for several firefighters working across NSW,” the state’s Rural Fire Service said in a social media post accompanying 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.”
Along the south coast of the state, locals who witnessed towns and forests being destroyed in recent weeks expressed cautious hope. Before the rains, 30 blazes were burning out of control in New South Wales.
“We’re thrilled and so relieved to have some dampness in the air because it makes things safe for a little while,” Virginia Connor told AFP near the town of Nowra.
Smoke from bushfires choked the southern city of Melbourne from Monday to Wednesday, disrupting the build-up to next week’s Australian Open tennis tournament. But thunderstorms late Wednesday cleared the smoke, with the wet weather moving east throughout Thursday towards fires in the southern state of Victoria.
More rain was forecast for Friday and the weekend, which, if it does fall, would be the most sustained period of wet weather since the crisis began in September last year. More rain was forecast for Friday and the weekend which, if it does fall, would be the most sustained period of wet weather since the crisis began in September last year.
Australia endures bushfires every year, but they started much earlier than normal in 2019 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 start of the southern summer.
Australia experienced its driest and hottest year on record in 2019, with its highest average maximum temperature of 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.4 degrees Fahrenheit) recorded in mid-December.
Scientists say 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 United Nations said on Wednesday.