A large plume of bushfire smoke hangs over a sheep property in the Parndana region on January 9 2020 on Kangaroo Island, Australia. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/LISA MAREE WILLIAMS
A large plume of bushfire smoke hangs over a sheep property in the Parndana region on January 9 2020 on Kangaroo Island, Australia. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/LISA MAREE WILLIAMS

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 town of Parndana on Kangaroo Island after a large blaze bore down on the area, with temperatures there soaring to 38°C.

In neighbouring 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 about 8-million hectares — an area the size of Ireland.

Scientists say the drought-fuelled 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.

‘Extreme’ danger

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  continent’s most populated regions.

Vast tracts of the states are facing “severe” fire danger on Friday, with some areas in Victoria 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.”

However 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 on Thursday it would spend A$1.2bn on restoring infrastructure in fire-ravaged areas. That comes on top of a separate A$2bn 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 1-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 travelled more than 12,000km 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°C recorded in mid-December.

AFP