All of the Fires in Australia’s Most Populous State Are ‘Now Contained,’ Authorities Say

Torrential downpours helped quash powerful blazes that had gripped New South Wales

Destroyed home in Nerrigundah, New South Wales
Wildfires destroyed around two-thirds of the homes in Nerrigundah, New South Wales. AP Photo / Sam McNeil

It has been called Australia’s “black summer”—nearly six months of devastating bushfires that raged across the country, burning through more than 11 million hectares of land, causing the deaths of at least 33 people, and killing an estimated one billion animals. But on Thursday, fire officials took to Twitter with some good news: After days of heavy rain, all of the fires burning in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, are now under control.

“After what’s been a truly devastating fire season for both firefighters and residents who suffered through so much this season, all fires are now contained in New South Wales,” said NSW Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers in the video update. “[W]hich is great news.”

Some fires continue to burn in the southern part of the state, Rogers noted, but are classified as contained.

New South Wales has been particularly hard-hit by the conflagrations. Two blazes alone, the Currowan and Gospers Mountain fires, each tore through some 500,000 hectares of land there, according to BBC News. Heavy downpours that began last week helped stamp out the Currowan fire, as well as the Lindfield Park Road fire, which had burned for 210 days.

The rains marked a shift from a prolonged drought that has afflicted Australia for the past three years. Parched conditions made it easier for fires to spread—and more difficult to extinguish them.

“[B]ecause it was so dry, you could be getting 50 millimeters [of rainfall] and that rain would just be absorbed very quickly,” Simon Heemstra of the Rural Fire Service tells BBC News. “And within a couple of days that vegetation had dried out again and started burning again.”

But the recent downpours were torrential, with some parts of the country experiencing more than 400 millimeters of rain. The deluge not only tempered bushfires in New South Wales, but also filled dams that had plummeted during months of dry weather. According to NPR’s Bill Chappell, water storage for the greater Sydney area has hit 75.1 percent, up 33.4 percent since last Thursday.

The rains have, however, been a mixed blessing. Last week, the New South Wales Bureau of Meteorology warned of “very dangerous conditions” caused by torrential rains, high winds, waves and tides. Over the course of 24 hours, the NSW State Emergency Service received around 2,500 calls for help because of the deluge, reports NPR. According to BBC News, flash floods in the state of Queensland led to the death of one person. Residents have also been dealing with power outages and flooded roads.

Then there is the matter of the forces driving Australia’s extreme weather. Wildfires have long been a part of Australia’s natural history, but experts say the country’s fire season has become longer and more extreme due to climate change. Heavy rains have been linked to climate change, too. A 2017 report by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, for instance, found that “climate variability can profoundly change rainfall patterns and intensity over the Pacific Ocean from year to year,” making both droughts and flooding more likely.

But for flame-weary Australians, the abatement of months of fires still comes as a relief.

Now that the flames have subsided in New South Wales, said Rogers in the video, “We can really focus on helping people rebuild.”

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