An area the size of South Korea has been destroyed by the bushfires devastating parts of Australia, new official data shows.
More than 10.3 million hectares of land has been razed by the flames so far this summer, turning the skies a hellish orange across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand and sending thick black smoke as far as South America.
In Australia, thousands of people have been left homeless, some have spent days without electricity, telecommunications and drinking water, and at least 24 have died.
Fire turns pilot’s sky orange
The bushfires have been most keenly felt in New South Wales, the most populous state in the country, where 130 fires are still burning.
Almost 1,600 homes have been destroyed there, and hundreds more in neighbouring Victoria to the south.
Image: Gutted homes in Mogo Village, New South Wales
Chris Dickman, a biodiversity expert at the University of Sydney, estimates that almost half a billion animals have perished in the bushfires, which are among the worst the country has ever seen.
The flames have been exacerbated by a three-year drought and the impact of climate change, although the Australian prime minister has refuted that link.
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Image: Half a billion animals are estimated to have died in the bushfires
Image: Animals seen in Cobargo, New South Wales
Scott Morrison said last month that it was “not credible” to say climate change had made a difference and has since been criticised for his response to the fires, notably from residents of a ravaged town he visited.
He has now pledged A$2bn (£1.05bn) to a newly-created National Bushfire Recovery Agency, and acknowledged that the ongoing crisis would have a significant impact on the Australian economy.
He also attended the funeral of volunteer firefighter Andrew O’Dwyer, who died on 19 December after a burnt tree collapsed into the path of the fire engine he was travelling in.
His colleague Geoffrey Keaton also died.
Image: Charlotte O’Dwyer, daughter of firefighter Andrew O’Dwyer, wears her father’s helmet at his funeral
Morrison said British counterpart Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump had both offered support, with 48 firefighters scheduled to arrive in Australia from America on Wednesday.
There are already 39 US firefighters on the ground to assist, and a further 18 incident management personnel should arrive from the US and Canada on Wednesday.
Bushfire devastates Kangaroo Island
The Insurance Council of Australia has increased its estimate for damage claims to more than A$700m (£367.8m),with claims expected to jump when more fire-hit areas become accessible.
Cooler weather conditions have brought some relief this week, although some accompanying rain has not been heavy enough to extinguish the blazes.
Victoria state emergency services minister Lisa Neville said on Monday at least eight inches of rain would need to fall over a short period of time to snuff out the fires – around 20 times what has fallen in the region in the past day.
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Officials have also warned that the wildfire season is nowhere near its end.
It normally lasts through to March.
Source : Sky News