Australian authorities issued evacuation orders as heavy rain lashed Sydney and the east coast of the state of New South Wales (NSW) on Monday, raising concerns of flooding in the country’s largest city. But the rains are also dousing bushfires that have raged since November.
Thanks to the rain, the NSW Rural Fire Service on Sunday night declared that one of the state’s worst bushfires, Currawon on the south coast, was finally out. The fire had burned for 74 days, destroying 312 homes and razing nearly 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of land.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told the Associated Press that he was optimistic the rain will help extinguish some blazes over the coming days. “The rain is good for business and farms as well as being really good for quenching some of these fires we’ve been dealing with for many, many months,” he said.
“We don’t want to see lots of widespread damage and disruption from flooding, but it is certainly a welcome change to the relentless campaign of hot, dry weather,” he added.
There were still 33 fires burning as of Monday morning in the state, but they were all at the lowest warning level of “advice” and mostly in southeastern areas where the rains were headed.
Farmers welcomed the rain but said the water was not going deep enough into the ground to end three years of drought.
“It’s a really good start to the year. Unfortunately, it’s not drought-breaking,” Nigel Cornish, a Queensland farmer who is a director of industry group Grain Growers, told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
The drought has contributed to a horrific fire season that has killed 33 people and an estimated 1 billion native animals, destroyed more than 2,500 homes and burned more than 11.7 million hectares (28 million acres) of land since September.
But the heavy rains were a concern, too. Between 200 and 400 millimeters (7.9 to 15.8 inches) of rain drenched the Sydney area out to the Blue Mountains and farther south over the weekend, the Bureau of Meteorology said, which led to rivers flooding and forced more than 60 schools to shut on Monday.
The NSW State Emergency Service received over 2,700 calls for help overnight, with the number of calls since last Wednesday topping 10,000, SES spokesman Andrew Richards said.
“It’s certainly quite a significant event. It’s led to a record number of calls to our call center. It’s quite widespread,” NSW State Emergency Service (SES) spokesman Andrew Richards said.
“Couple that with gale-force winds off the coast, large 6-meter (20-foot) waves, the coastline’s getting pretty hammered as well with the high tides and king tides.”
The Bureau of Meteorology warned that heavy rain could lead to life-threatening flash flooding for the south coast of New South Wales and also said there could be wind gusts of more than 90 km per hour (56 miles per hour).
(Reporting by Editing by Peter Cooney)