SYDNEY (Reuters) – Fires across Australia’s most populous state are now contained for the first time in nearly six months, authorities said on Friday, as heavy rains aid firefighters and boost some dam levels to their highest in nearly two years.
FILE PHOTO: A firefighter from a local brigade works to extinguish flames after a bushfire burnt through the area in Bredbo, New South Wales, Australia, February 2, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Australia has been battling hundreds of blazes since September in an unusually prolonged summer wildfire season that was fueled by three years of drought, which experts have attributed to climate change.
Aided by storms that lashed Australia’s east coast earlier this week, the New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service (RFS) said 24 blazes remain alight across state, though all are now under control.
“After what’s been a truly devastating fire season for both firefighters and residents who suffered through so much this season, all fires are now contained in New South Wales. Which is great news,” NSW RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
The current situation is a far cry from the peak of the crisis in early January when NSW firefighters were battling almost 150 fires that produced a firefront about 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) long.
Blazes across the country have razed nearly 12 million hectares (29.7 million acres) of tinder-dry bushland, killing 33 people and an estimated 1 billion native animals, since September.
The fires destroyed thousands of homes and prompted mass evacuations of both locals and tourists under apocalyptic-like red skies during Australia’s peak summer holiday period.
As well as aiding firefighting efforts, the deluge of rains has boosted dam levels across NSW, home to more than 7 million people.
With little rain for three years, some parts of the state had less than a year’s worth of drinking water left, forcing some authorities to begin to truck in expensive fresh water from other parts of the country.
But nearly 400 millimetres (15.8 inches) of rain fell in the Sydney area and surrounding areas. The Warragamba Dam, which supplies about four-fifths of Sydney’s water, is now 76.5% full – up more than a third in just the last week – and the highest level since April 2018.
Further rains are also seen arriving over the coming days, with more than 50 mm of moisture across the state over the next five days.
(This refile fixes a typo in the first paragraph)
Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Marguerita Choy