A change in the weather has given brief respite to firefighters trying to contain the devastating bushfires sweeping across Australia, but experts fear the worst is yet to come.
A group of huge blazes – one in the state of Victoria and two others in neighbouring new South Wales – are only six miles apart and threaten to merge in that next few days.
That would create a mega-blaze that would be too big to fight.
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“It’s very concerning,” Victoria’s State Response Controller David Bruce told News.com.au this morning.
“Obviously we have some conditions on Thursday and Friday which will increase the fire danger ratings and, with the potential of these fires joining up, will create some weather conditions that will be very unpredictable and very challenging to fight.”
Once fires reach a critical size, the rising heat changes the composition of the atmosphere above them, creating new and unpredictable weather systems such as dry lightning storms and fire tornadoes. These freak conditions can potentially start new fires ahead of the existing blaze, making it spread even more quickly.
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New South Wales Transport Minister Andrew Constance has compared the impact of the bushfires to "an atomic bomb”.
Meanwhile, some people living in the narrow band between the fires have refused to evacuate. Incident Controller Leith McKenzie expressed her frustration at their decision, saying: “They’re stubborn and they don’t want to move,” she said. “They’re defending their life and that’s what they know.”
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Temperatures are continuing to climb across the country. The Sydney suburb of Penrith was today reported to be the hottest place on Earth, reaching temperatures of nearly 50ºC (122º Fahrenheit).
Fires in Australia have killed at least 26 people since September 2019. Dozens more are missing and some 1,500 homes have been lost in the fires.
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The impact on wildlife has been incalculable – Professor Chris Dickman, a biodiversity expert at the University of Sydney, estimates that 480 million animals have been affected by the Australian bushfires. The cost in insects and other invertebrates – which underpin the area’s entire ecosystem – can’t even be guessed at.
Some endangered species may never recover.
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The fires are expected to continue to burn for weeks, with firefighters unable to do much more than protect some settlements.
Ordinary people and celebrities around the world have made donations to charities supporting the volunteer firefighters, injured animals, and people made homeless by the huge fires.
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The Australian government has been criticised for its slow and inadequate response to the crisis, but prime minister, Scott Morrison defended his handling of the situation, saying “blame doesn't help anybody at this time and over-analysis of these things is not a productive exercise".
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