Rain brought temporary relief to the Australia bushfires on Sunday, allowing officials to reopen roads and rescue stranded civilians. Thick smoke, however, hindered their efforts to move everyone to safety.
Bushfires in have devastated the country, killing 25 people and destroying 19.8 million acres of land, incinerating thousands of buildings and homes in the process.
While bushfires are not uncommon in Australia, bushfire season started earlier than usual this year, and the fires have been burning for months. Extreme heat and a three-year drought have only exacerbated the fires.
According to Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews, 400 people were airlifted out of the town of Mallacoota on Sunday, but the smoke prevented the rescue of at least 300 more.
“What we are focusing on here is the human cost and the rebuilding cost for people’s lives,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Morrison, who has previously been criticized for his lack of action on climate change, announced the formation of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, which allocated $1.4 billion in funds to spend over two years.
The agency aims to help residents recover from their losses and cover the expense of fighting and extinguishing the fires.
“Whatever it takes, and whatever it costs, we will ensure Australians get the support they need to rebuild and recover from these bushfires,” Morrison said.
In addition to the human lives lost, the fires have taken a toll on Australia’s wildlife. Around 4,000 livestock have been killed, as well as half a billion wild animals in New South Wales alone.
Victoria and New South Wales have been hit the hardest so far. The two southeastern states have had the highest number of deaths and remaining uncontained fires. According to Australian officials, 69 of the initial 136 fires in New South Wales are still burning.
While there may have been a brief cooling period, high temperatures and strong winds are expected to return later this week, once again enraging Australia’s bushfires, which are expected to continue to burn for months to come.
Climate change is a major driving force behind Australia’s worsening bushfires. The increased temperatures and lengthy droughts are both brought on by climate change, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Even the increased duration of the fires this year is due to climate change.
“There are many drivers of wildfires,” said Berkeley Earth climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, “but it’s increasingly clear that hotter, drier conditions play a big role in making them worse.”