Rainstorms douse bushfires across eastern Australia

SYDNEY (AFP) – Rain and thunderstorms doused long-burning bushfires across much of eastern Australia yesterday, but they also brought a new threat of flooding in some areas.

Major bushfires continued to rage in regions of the south and southeast of the country that have so far missed out on the rain, including in wildlife-rich forests on Kangaroo Island off the southern coast.

The fire service in New South Wales (NSW) state, the country’s most populous and the hardest hit by the crisis, said 75 fires continued to burn yesterday, down from well over 100 a few days earlier.

“Rain continues to fall across a number of fire grounds,” the state’s rural fire service said, adding that “benign conditions” of rain and cooler temperatures were helping efforts to contain the remaining blazes.

To the north, Queensland state was hit by severe storms overnight, causing some flash flooding and road closures though no deaths or injuries were reported. Both states have suffered from one of the longest droughts in modern Australian history and some areas saw more rain on Friday and yesterday than had fallen in more than a decade.

Fires continued to burn out of control in southern New South Wales and neighbouring Victoria state, but forecasters expected significant rainfall in those areas today and tomorrow, raising hopes that some of those blazes could be brought under control as well.

The unprecedented fires, fuelled by climate change and a years-long drought, have claimed 28 lives over the past five months.

A firefighter backs away from the flames near Tomerong, Australia. PHOTO: AP