Australia’s bushfire-stricken east welcomes drenching rain

Environment

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Intense thunderstorms with heavy rains dampened bushfires on Australia east coast on Friday and brought relief to farmers in three states battling a drought which has left much of the country tinder dry.

FILE PHOTO: A buggy pulls people, sliding around in the mud, as they celebrate the rainfall in Winton, Queensland, Australia January 15, 2020 in this still image taken from social media video. Teonie Dwyer via REUTERS

Australia, famous for its pristine beaches and wildlife, has been fighting bushfires since September, with fires killing 29 people and millions of animals, and destroying more than 2,500 homes while razing an area roughly a third the size of Germany.

Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, three of the most affected states, saw heavy downpours of rain which is forecast to continue through the weekend.

Fire services said that while the rain will not extinguish all the blazes, it will help greatly to contain them.

“Our fingers are crossed that this continues over the coming days,” New South Wales fire services said on Twitter on Friday.

While the wet weather brings relief to fire fighters and drought-hit farmers, it also comes with dangers, such as flash flooding and falling trees, many structurally destroyed by the intense bushfires.

The storms have helped disperse smoke in Melbourne, which sheathed the city disrupted the Australian Open qualifying matches and other sporting competitions, but winds are set to bring back unhealthy air over the weekend.

The smoke haze that has plagued Australia’s major cities for weeks has been tracked by NASA circumnavigating the globe and the space agency satellites showed on Thursday there is also a large concentration of lower smoke over the Pacific Ocean.

GRAPHIC: Swirling smoke interactive here

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

* There were 82 fires burning across New South Wales early Friday, 30 uncontained, and several fires in Victoria, according to fire authorities.

* Australia will have to wait until March for rains heavy enough to bring sustained relief from dry weather that has fueled deadly bushfires, the country’s weather bureau said on Thursday.

* Australia’s peak tourism body estimated the country’s bushfire crisis has so far cost the industry almost A$1 billion ($690 million). [L4N29L069]

* Qualifying rounds of Australian Open in Melbourne, the first tennis Grand Slam of the year, blighted by complaints from players about the pollution.

GRAPHIC: Sizing up Australia’s bushfires interactive here

Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry

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