Thunderstorms and showers brought some relief for firefighters battling deadly wildfires across Australia’s drought-parched east coast on Wednesday, but also raised concerns that lightning will spark more fires before dangerous hot and windy conditions return, The Associated Press informs.
Around 2,300 firefighters in New South Wales state were making the most of relatively benign conditions by frantically consolidating containment lines around more than 110 blazes and patrolling for lightning strikes, state Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said, AP writes.
“Unfortunately with lightning strikes, it’s not always the next day they pop up,” Fitzsimmons told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“They can smolder around in trees and in root systems for a couple of days and pop up under drier, hotter conditions, so we are very mindful of that as we head into Friday,” he added.
The containment work comes as the death toll since the fires flared in September rose by one to 26. Matt Kavanagh, a 43-year-old Victoria state firefighter, was killed in a vehicle crash on Friday, officials said. Kavanagh was on the road working to extinguish unattended campfires when the crash happened, said Chris Hardman, Forest Fire Management Victoria’s Chief Fire Officer. It took police a few days to investigate his death before they confirmed it was linked to his work on the wildfires, and therefore part of the disaster’s official death toll.
“He’s such a well-loved guy,” Hardman told reporters. “For those people who knew Matt, it’s going to take a long time. I can’t imagine what that family is going through and what Matt’s colleagues are going through. It’s just such a very sad day.”
The unprecedented fire crisis in southeast Australia that has destroyed 2,000 homes and shrouded major cities in smoke has focused many Australians on how the nation adapts to climate change. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced fierce criticism both domestically and internationally for downplaying the need for his government to address climate change, which experts say helps supercharge the blazes, AP writes.
The center-left opposition Labor Party has made political capital from the crisis by promising more ambitious policies than the ruling conservative coalition to tackle climate change. Opposition climate spokesman Mark Butler wants the government to allow a debate on climate change in Parliament when it returns in February.