Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 November 2019

Australians flee homes as 140 bushfires ravage eastern states

At least eight of the fires are suspicious and are being investigated by police

Hundreds of Australians have fled their homes in the eastern states as 140 fires ravaged parts of Queensland and New South Wales, officials said on Tuesday.

Strong winds have fanned bushfires in the two Australian states since Monday, with flames out of control in some areas, ravaging thousands of hectares of land.

At least eight of those fires are suspicious and will be investigated, Queensland Police Commissioner Katrina Carroll told reporters.

"Some of the fires have involved children playing and obviously the consequences are dire as a result of that and ... some of them have been purposeful and malicious," she said.

"The consequences of some of these fires are dire. People can die. Buildings and residences are being destroyed."

In the northeastern state of Queensland alone, low humidity levels, high winds and dried out vegetation have fuelled 85 fires that have destroyed or damaged 84 houses across the state, fire service officials said.

There were more than 400 people in evacuation centres, acting Queensland premier Jackie Trad told reporters. She added that there are none dead or missing.

"Apart from Sunshine Coast, we are still seeing fires right throughout the state," she said.

In neighbouring New South Wales, firefighters were battling about 55 fires and about five properties had been confirmed destroyed, the NSW Rural Fire Service said on Monday.

Climate change fans fears of worst fire season in decades

Bushfires have started earlier than normal in the southern hemisphere spring, prompting authorities to warn that the approaching bushfire season could be the worst in decades.

Australia's hot, dry climate makes bushfires a regular occurrence, but scientists say climate change is making conditions ever-more combustible.

Government-backed researchers have already predicted the next six months of southern hemisphere spring and summer have "the potential to be an active season" because of a very warm and dry start to the year.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services assistant commissioner Brad Commens told AFP the early bushfire season had caught authorities off-guard.

Many of his staff would ordinarily be working on planning and preparation this early in September, but they have been called to action instead.

"At this point, we're fairly early in the fire season so it's difficult to predict how long this will go on for, but it's certainly not what I've seen over the last 30 years," he said.

"Without significant rain or without a significant weather change, I think we're in for the long haul."

The fire season usually starts in the far north of Queensland in September and slowly progresses down Australia's eastern states, hitting New South Wales around Christmas, and Victoria and Tasmania in January and February.

But it is already hitting southern Queensland and New South Wales -- where 99 percent of the state was declared in drought last May.

On Friday, a fire tore through the small town of Tenterfield, destroying around 25 buildings including five houses.

The town's mayor, Pete Petty, told AFP it was "horrific" to see parts of the town burning. "The townspeople were in shock. It was like being in an apocalypse."

Like scientists, Petty fears this is just the beginning. "We're in the middle of the worst drought in living memory," he said.

Updated: September 10, 2019 09:39 AM

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