Australia reels after another day of fire fury

Photo: Collected

AFP: Hundreds of properties were destroyed and one man died trying to save a friend’s home in the severe conditions- among the worst in Australia’s deadly bushfire crisis.

But even as Australians tried to regroup, seaside towns were plunged into darkness, ash rained down on rural communities and major cities were again cloaked in smoke on Sunday.

In the state of New South Wales alone, almost 150 fires continued to burn, many out of control, with light rains offering little relief and blazes again touching the suburbs of Sydney.

Everywhere, people struggled to come to grips with a catastrophe that has taken place on a near-continental scale, unfurled over months and altered daily life for millions.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. “We can’t pretend that this is something that we have experienced before. It’s not.”

Authorities have struggled to keep pace with the severity of the crisis — which has scorched an area almost the size of Ireland.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the largest military call-up in living memory, mobilising up to 3,000 reservists to assist exhausted volunteer firefighters.

Warships and combat helicopters have already been repurposed to help out with the largest maritime evacuation in Australia since World War II- moving some of the 4,000 people trapped for days on the foreshore of Mallacoota to safety.

Prime Minister Morrison also announced the establishment of a Bushfire Recovery Agency, that will run for two years and help survivors get back on their feet, a signal that the path ahead will be long and difficult.

For tens of thousands of volunteer firefighters, the immediate battle continued, earning them praise from across Australia and around the world.

Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday said she was “deeply saddened” by the fires, and thanked the emergency services “who put their own lives in danger” to help communities.

Celebrities have pledged or raised millions of dollars to support firefighters and fire-affected communities, including American pop star Pink, who tweeted on Saturday that she was donating US$500,000.

Australian actress Nicole Kidman matched that pledge.

“Our family’s support, thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the fires all over Australia,” she posted on Instagram. “We are donating $500,000 to the Rural Fire Services who are all doing and giving so much right now.”