Australia bushfires flare as heatwave brings renewed misery

Australia’s catastrophic bushfires have killed at least 26 people, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched some 80,000 square kilometers. (AFP)
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Updated 09 January 2020

Australia bushfires flare as heatwave brings renewed misery

SYDNEY: Bushfires flared in southern Australia on Thursday as a heatwave expected to bring renewed misery set in, and officials warned some areas are “just at the beginning” of the devastating crisis.
Soldiers went door-to-door advising residents to leave the South Australian town of Parndana on Kangaroo Island after a large blaze bore down on the area, with temperatures there soaring to 38° Celsius (100° Fahrenheit).
That came less than 24 hours after police evacuated the picturesque island’s Vivonne Bay community, which by Thursday afternoon was also being threatened by fires that were expected to burn for days to come.
“The conditions are such that it is continuing to present a significant risk to the firefighters who are working hard to control the fires, and to anyone else in the vicinity,” Country Fire Service chief Mark Jones said.
In neighboring Victoria state, officials extended a “state of disaster” declaration for a further 48 hours ahead of scorching temperatures that were due to set in Friday, further stoking massive fires.
“It’s a very dangerous and dynamic situation that will confront us over the next 12, 24 and 36 hours,” Victoria Emergency Management commissioner Andrew Crisp said.
The catastrophic bushfires have killed at least 26 people, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched some 80,000 square kilometers — an area the size of the island of Ireland.
Scientists say the drought-fueled blazes are being worsened by climate change, which is increasing the length and intensity of Australia’s fire season.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews warned residents to brace for further devastation in what has already been a months-long crisis.
“We’re just at the beginning of what will be a really, really challenging summer,” he said.
Despite cooler weather and rainfall providing some relief in some bushfire-affected areas this week, almost 150 fires were still burning in worst-hit New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, the huge continent’s most populated regions.
Vast tracts of the states are facing “severe” fire danger Friday, with some areas expected to experience “extreme” conditions.
“Don’t get complacent with the rain that we’ve seen,” Victoria police minister Lisa Neville said.
“These fires are absolutely still moving, still growing in our landscape and they pose significant risk to communities.”
Firefighters have been taking advantage of this week’s milder weather as they race to contain bushfires ahead of Friday.
They have been clearing vegetation and carrying out controlled burns in an effort to protect areas like the coastal town of Eden, where a large bushfire is burning to the south.
“It only takes a spark to get a fire burning, and that’s our concern for tomorrow,” Rural Fire Service superintendent John Cullen told a local council briefing.
The Rural Fire Service said a helicopter pilot who had been waterbombing a fire in the area ditched his aircraft into a dam Thursday afternoon, managing to free himself and swim to shore.
In some burnt-out areas people have turned to the painful task of rebuilding their homes and lives, with the process expected to take years.
NSW announced Thursday it would spend A$1.2 billion ($680 million) on restoring infrastructure in fire-ravaged areas. That comes on top of a separate A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) national recovery fund earmarked to help devastated communities.
“We are always standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those who have been impacted by the devastating fires, this catastrophe which has come to New South Wales and we are stepping up to make sure we provide that support,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
The bushfire toll has not been limited to human losses — the blazes have also wreaked wide-ranging environmental damage.
University of Sydney scientists estimate one billion animals have been killed in the fires. The figure includes mammals, birds and reptiles, but not frogs, insects or invertebrates.
Bushfire smoke has shrouded Australia’s major cities in toxic haze for weeks, causing major public health concerns.
The smoke has also traveled more than 12,000 kilometers to Brazil and Argentina, according to weather authorities there.
Australia experienced its driest and hottest year on record in 2019, with its highest average maximum temperature of 41.9° Celsius recorded in mid-December.


Man suspected of killing wife, three children in Australia fire

Updated 20 February 2020

Man suspected of killing wife, three children in Australia fire

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was ‘shocked, saddened and devastated’ by the tragedy
  • A passer-by who tried to intervene in the situation was also taken to hospital to be treated for facial burns

SYDNEY: An ex-rugby league player is suspected of murdering his three children and estranged wife in Australia by burning them alive inside their car, in what police described as one of the most horrific incidents they have encountered.

Officers said 31-year-old Hannah Clarke died in a Brisbane hospital on Wednesday just hours after her three children aged three, four and six were found dead in the car on a suburban street.

Her husband, Rowan Baxter, who also died, allegedly approached the vehicle and doused it with petrol before setting it alight, The Australian newspaper reported.

The paper said Clarke jumped from the burning car and rolled on the ground, saying “he’s poured petrol on me.”

Officials said she was rushed to hospital with severe burns following the “horrific” incident but later succumbed to her injuries.

Baxter, a 42-year-old former rugby league player for the New Zealand Warriors, was believed to be in the burning vehicle but got out and died on a footpath.

Queensland Police detective inspector Mark Thompson said Thursday that Baxter died as a result of burns and a self-inflicted wound.

“Information that’s to hand has led us to believe that the Baxter children and Hannah Clarke were killed and I don’t believe there’s any suspicious circumstances around the death of Rowan Baxter,” he said.

Clarke’s sister-in-law, Stacey Roberts, set up a fundraiser to pay for funeral costs and support Hannah’s parents, who she said had “exhausted themselves to try and help Hannah escape this monster.”

“All those who knew Hannah or had even just met her once would know how much of a beautiful soul she was. Her children (were) her life,” Roberts posted on Facebook.

The page has so far raised almost Aus$100,000 ($67,000).

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was “shocked, saddened and devastated” by the tragedy, which has led to an outpouring of grief on social media.

“Hannah and her three children were so senselessly and maddeningly murdered in what has occurred in a terrible act of violence and it just grieves our hearts terribly today,” he said.

Natasha Stott Despoja, a former senator and chair of anti-violence group Our Watch, called for stronger action to address violence against women in Australia, which she described as a “national emergency.”

“I know people want change, people are angry & sad today,” she tweeted. “How long before we stop this slaughter in our suburbs?“

A passer-by who tried to intervene in the situation was also taken to hospital to be treated for facial burns, a Queensland Ambulance Service spokesperson said.

The emergency responders who attended the scene have been stood down from their duties and will receive support, he added.