After interrupting his shocking vacation in Hawaii, the Australian Prime Minister finally went on Sunday, December 22, to the fires that have ravaged eastern Australia for weeks. Scott Morrison, challenged for his lack of action on global warming, visited the firefighters in rural New South Wales, volunteers who have been fighting devastating wildfire for months and beyond control.
The Australian Prime Minister said he regretted having gone on vacation in this context. “I understand that people were shocked that I was on vacation with my family while theirs was in great pain. (…) If I could go back in time, knowing what I know today, we would have made another decision, " did he declare.
At the time of his departure, conditions were already very difficult, with fires which had destroyed an area equivalent to Belgium and whose toxic fumes enveloped several cities in the East, from Brisbane to Canberra via Sydney. "I apologize, said the conservative leader. There are lessons I have learned. " "I am sure the Australians are fair and understand that when we make a promise to our children, we try to keep it", he explained. But, "As prime minister, we have other responsibilities".
While admitting that there is a link between fire and climate change, he has refused to reverse government policy favorable to the coal mining industry. Many Australians took to the streets to protest, or expressed disapproval on social media. Fires are common on the vast island continent during spring and southern summer. But they were particularly precocious and virulent this year, and climatologists agree that global warming makes conditions even more conducive to their spread.
The equivalent of Belgium already gone up in smoke
Scott Morrison praised firefighters for the worst weather conditions: the strongest heat wave ever seen in the country, strong winds and drought. The vast majority are volunteers, exhausted by the intensity and duration of this fire season. Sunday, a light respite gave them time to take stock and contain the immense fire raging around Sydney. To put it out, however, heavy rain will be needed. It should rain in several places Tuesday and Wednesday, which some see as a Christmas present. But the weekend should be much less lenient.
Already, "We have seen considerable damage and destruction", said rural New South Wales fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons, who described Saturday as "A horrible day". The State of South Australia was also very affected. Two people have died there in the past two days and dozens of firefighters and residents have been treated for injuries or poisoning. Prime Minister Steven Marshall announced that 72 homes have been destroyed in Adelaide Hills alone, according to public broadcaster ABC.
The fires destroyed at least 30,000 km² of land, an area equivalent to that of Belgium, killed at least 10 people and destroyed more than 800 houses. So far they have only touched the densely populated areas, but a few small towns or villages have felt the flames. Doctors warned of a "State of health emergency" in Sydney due to toxic fumes. Hospitals have already reported an increase in emergency room visits for heatstroke or respiratory problems.