Relief and new dangers for fire-stricken Australia after storms forecast
The shift to more humid and wet weather will likely help control some of the 114 blazes burning across New South Wales and Victoria states and potentially extinguish some, but also bring new dangers.
Severe storms are expected to bring some relief in the coming days in Australia, which is battling its worst bushfire reason on record that claimed 29 lives, destroyed over 2,500 homes and razed bushland across an area the size of Bulgaria.
But according to officials, heavy downpours could also carry the risk of landslides and water pollution.
The shift to more humid and wet weather later on Wednesday will likely help control some of the 114 blazes burning across New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria states and potentially even extinguish some, but also bring new dangers.
"This is a day that we are quite concerned about," Kevin Parkyn, a senior meteorologist with the Bureau of Meteorology, told reporters as he detailed a forecast of damaging winds, heavy rainfall and large hailstones for the city of Melbourne and its surrounds.
"Thunderstorms are a bit of a double-edged sword. While they can bring some much-needed rain, (the rain) can also come down in very fast, high quantities," Parkyn said.
Heavy downpours can pollute fresh water supplies as debris is swept into reservoirs. They can also cause flash flooding, leaving burnt-out areas of bushland particularly vulnerable to landslips and tree felling.
Melbourne, the capital of Victoria state, bore the brunt on Wednesday of smoke haze that satellites operated by US space agency NASA scientists have tracked circumnavigating the globe.
Flights were cancelled as the heavy smoke pall shut down a runway at the city's airport and the start of qualifying matches for the Australian Open tournament, tennis' first Grand Slam of the year, was delayed for the second day in a row.
Right now, there were 98 fires burning in New South Wales and 16 fires burning in Victoria. Thirty-five of the NSW fires have been uncontained.
According to a US climatologist and geophysicist, globally rising temperatures may make Australia so hot and dry that the country could join the ranks of “climate refuges”.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported that over 1.25 billion animals are believed to be dead in infernos and experts believe that hundreds of billions of insects may have been wiped out.
Meanwhile, aboriginal people living along the NSW’s south coast are gravely concerned about hundreds of important and protected sites they fear have been damaged or destroyed by bushfires.
Yuin – a group of Australian Aboriginal people -- said that there were several sites that may have been wiped out between Gulaga (Mount Dromedary) and Mumbulla mountain, north of Bega.
Mumbulla and Gulaga are part of a chain of important Aboriginal cultural sites stretching from the Shoalhaven to the Victorian border.
“There are hundreds of sites, male ceremony places, sites on our sacred mountain, that burned. Not only Yuin land but all over – there’d be thousands of places destroyed by these fires,” said a Yuin man.
The NSW Aboriginal Land Council said its immediate priority was “offering much-needed support to local Aboriginal land councils in fire-affected regions of the state”.
“The impacts of these fires undoubtedly extend to the degradation and loss of vital culture and heritage,” the council said. “However, we are currently focused on the very significant immediate human needs arising from this crisis.”
A fundraiser is operating to help the community rebuild, supporting families and elders, including providing trauma and mental health support.