Australia’s ferocious bush fire season reignited on Thursday with a huge number of fires, many of them out of control, causing smoke to blanket a number of major cities.
By early afternoon, dozens of fires were burning across the southeastern state of Victoria and temperatures of 40.9C (105.6 F) in Melbourne, its capital, matched the hottest day on record in 1894, Australia’s weather bureau said.
Residents in several regions – including in Australia’s biggest city, Sydney – wore masks if they ventured outside, with authorities warning people in some areas to stay in their homes.
A dramatic dust storm caused by the fires swept through the town of Mildura, turning the sky a vivid orange.
New South Wales has been hardest hit by the fires, with six people killed, almost 1.7 million hectares burnt, and around 600 homes destroyed. At the peak of the crisis, 3,000 fire fighters were deployed to stop the fires, supported by 70 aircraft.
There are still 49 fires burning in New South Wales, with 25 out of control.
A statement issued by the Rural Fire Service of New South Wales on Thursday afternoon said: “The smoke around Sydney, the Illawarra and north coast is going to hang around for a bit longer.
"It’s likely to settle across much of the coast tonight before a change moves through overnight and tomorrow morning. The smoke is however likely to return over the weekend.”
In Queensland, to the north, there are 70 fires burning, one of which covers 13,000 hectares and, according to officials, could burn for weeks unless it rains soon.
In South Australia, more than 30 people were treated for minor injuries and at least a dozen homes were destroyed, as firefighters battled a dangerous bushfire on Yorke Peninsula. 4,500 hectares have been lost, and more than a dozen temperature records were broken in that state.
In Victoria a total fire ban was issued for the entire state, and out of control fires are now threatening homes in regional areas.
Scott Morrison, the prime minister, was widely criticised after tweeting yesterday that Australia’s cricket team would give the firefighters and communities impacted by the fire "something to cheer about".
Mr Morrison also drew heavy criticism for claiming there was no link between Australia’s carbon emissions and the deteriorating climate and fire conditions.
"The suggestion that any way shape or form that Australia – accounting for 1.3 percent of the world’s emissions… are impacting directly on specific fire events, whether it is here or anywhere else in the world, that doesn’t bear up to credible scientific evidence," he told ABC radio.
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Former fire chiefs who issued a warning in April that Australia was unprepared for the impact of climate change on bushfire season say Mr Morrison continues to decline their request for a meeting.