Australia's bushfire danger returns as Sydney faces scorching heat

Reuters

Posted at Jan 23 2020 08:37 AM

Bushland is seen burnt by fire as rain pools in large puddles at Bilpin, in the Blue Mountains, Australia, January 17, 2020. Dan Himbrechts, AAP Image via Reuters

MELBOURNE - Soaring temperatures are set to stoke simmering bushfires in Australia's southeast on Thursday, with Sydney forecast to hit 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) following a few days of reprieve.

A forest fire near the airport in Canberra, which had triggered evacuation warnings in the capital's eastern suburbs on Wednesday, was under control with no properties under threat, the Australian Capital Territory's emergency authority said.

Firefighters in New South Wales (NSW) were tackling 79 blazes on Thursday, all at the lowest warning level, while air quality in the country's biggest city, Sydney, was forecast to drop to poor.

Heavy rain in Melbourne doused any threat of smoke haze hitting players at the Australian Open tennis tournament, with air quality rated as good. Last week, a player collapsed in a coughing fit from bushfire smoke during qualifying rounds at the tournament.

Since September, hundreds of wildfires in Australia have killed 29 people as well as an estimated 1 billion native animals, while incinerating 2,500 homes and a total area of bushland one-third the size of Germany.

The disaster hit the Christmas and summer holiday season, emptying out caravan parks and hotels, devastating peak earnings for businesses dependent on domestic and foreign tourists.

"It has certainly been the worst summer in living memory and arguably it's been the worst summer ever for Australian tourism," Australian Tourism Industry Council director Simon Westaway told The Australian newspaper.

The Council estimated the immediate loss of revenue at A$2 billion ($1.4 billion), including forward sales and the physical damage to tourism facilities across regions ravaged by bushfires.

Here are Thursday's key events in the bushfire crisis:

* NSW firefighters were tackling 79 incidents, all at advice level, meaning no immediate danger. In Victoria there were 18 blazes, with one of those, in the state's northeast, at the "watch and act" warning level.

* Sydney was set for a hot and windy day, with a high temperature of 41 degrees Celsius, while the capital Canberra was forecast to hit 33 degrees C, facing windy conditions and dust haze, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

* A Reuters analysis shows that Australian animals living in specific habitats, such as mountain lizards, leaf-tailed geckos and pear-shaped frogs, are battling the threat of extinction after fierce bushfires razed large areas of their homes.