Australian firefighter dies battling bushfire in south
Sydney, Australia - An Australian firefighter has become the latest victim of the months-long bushfire crisis, with authorities saying Sunday that the 60 year old man died fighting a blaze in the country’s south.
Chris Hardman, chief fire officer at Forest Fire Management Victoria, said a firefighter from Parks Victoria was ‘involved in an incident while working on a fire in the Omeo area resulting in a fatality’. It is believed he was struck by a tree.
The death raised the toll from Australia’s bushfires to at least 27, even as firefighters took advantage of cooler conditions to conduct backburning and strengthen containment lines.
Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would consider opening a commission of inquiry into the
blazes, amid sustained criticism of his handling of the crisis.
“I think that is what would be necessary, and I will be taking a proposal through Cabinet to that end,” he told public broadcaster ABC.
Morrison acknowledged a groundswell of anger about the climate-fuelled fires, which have burned an area the size of South Korea and again shrouded Sydney in smoke Sunday.
The Prime Minister - a staunch supporter of fossil fuel industries - said emissions targets would ‘evolve’ but ruled out curbing Australia’s vast exports of coal.
“In the years ahead, we are going to continue to evolve our policy in this area to reduce emissions even further and we are going to do it without a carbon tax, without putting up electricity prices and without shutting down
traditional industries,” he said.
Authorities have warned that while the blazes are set to ease this week, the crisis is far from over.
After a blustery night that saw a series of massive infernos in New South Wales and Victoria states merge into a mega-blaze four times the size of Greater London, temperatures dropped and rain fell on fire-scarred regions on Saturday.
“Whilst it was a very long and - in parts of New South Wales - difficult night, we’re relieved this morning that no lives have been lost and no substantial property damage,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Saturday.
The milder conditions are expected to last around a week, giving firefighters time to try to get the fires under control.
New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons described the conditions as the ‘best seven days we have had without a rise of very dangerous fire ratings’.
In a matter of months, the catastrophic bushfires have killed at least 26 people, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched some 10mn hectares - an area larger than South Korea or Portugal.
University researchers estimate that more than one billion mammals, birds and reptiles have been killed in the blazes.
Despite the cool change, authorities warned that the bushfire season is not yet over, with hundreds of fires across several states still raging.
The head of a firefighting ‘strike team’ in the village of Towamba, Nathan Barnden, told AFP the rainfall was ‘fantastic’ but ‘not enough at this stage to put these fires out’.
“We’re going to need hundreds of millimetres over a period of time to... make firefighting easier for us,” he said.
In Victoria state, Premier Daniel Andrews called on communities to remain vigilant and warned that the months-long crisis was ‘a long way from over’.
That message echoed in the town of Mogo, where what remains of the main street was still without power and the few open businesses were running on generators.
Local resident and father of two Mark Bucke (49) said the last ten days had ‘been hell, especially with kids’. “We didn’t have bread or milk for probably four days.”
The sails of the Opera House lit with a series of images to show support for the communities affected by the bushfires and to express the gratitude to the emergency services and volunteers, in Sydney on Saturday