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Tue, 21 Jan 2020 14:13 GMT

Rains Restore Hope in Australia as Smoke Obstructs Preparations for Tennis Tournament


7Dnews London - Reuters

Wed, 15 Jan 2020 04:15 GMT

The expectation of heavy rains in Australia has restored hope for firefighting on Tuesday, January 14th, while Melbourne is covered in a cloud of toxic smoke, disrupting the exercises for four major tennis tournaments.

In recent days, the cold weather has provided relief to exhausted firefighters as a result of the massive fires that have ravaged entire areas of the island since September, killing at least 27 people, AFP reported.

A number of the most powerful fires have finally been brought under control.

This optimism increased on Tuesday with the announcement of expected heavy rains in some of the most affected areas, especially in the most densely populated states, New South Wales (NWS) and Victoria, and in southeast Australia.

"It's some pretty good news," NWS Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

"We've been talking about it for months now, that January might see the first fall of decent rain, and that looks like what's coming along over the next few days," Fitzsimmons explained.

It is expected that the rain will start on Wednesday, January 15th in eastern Australia and continue over the weekend, according to government-appointed meteorologist Sarah Scully.

"Hopefully some of this heavy rainfall will fall over some of the fire sites and help control or even extinguish some of those fires," Scully said.

Dozens of fires are still out of control, and Australia is expected to experience high temperatures for long weeks during the Australian summer season, with nothing heralding a near end to the crisis.

Meanwhile, a cloud of toxic smoke from the fires covered the capital of Victoria, which is set to host next week's Australian Open tennis championship, according to AFP.

Pollution in Melbourne, which is usually listed as one of the most pleasant cities in the world, has reached "dangerous" levels, prompting health authorities to advise residents to stay in their homes.

World number one tennis champion Rafael Nadal and other international stars performed their exercises at home rather than abroad.

The Australian Open matches were postponed for two hours on Tuesday morning, which sparked chaos and anxiety among some players, who believed the matches should have been cancelled for the day.

Russia’s Maria Sharapova, the former world number one, on Tuesday pulled out of a show match in Kooyong, a Melbourne suburb, due to smoke from the fires.

But this smog is not supposed to hang over Melbourne all week, as it is expected that the rains will start and the wind will change, which will lead to the dissolution of the pollution cloud, AFP said.

Despite the hope brought by the expectation of rain, scientists have warned that the forest fires devouring Australia have created a range of conditions that could become normal unless the world moves quickly to curb greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming, Reuters reported.

Although the Australian government and some of the media have attempted to marginalise the role of man-made climate change in making the country more vulnerable to widespread fire, a review of 57 scientific papers published since 2013 indicate clear links.

"We're not going to reverse climate change on any conceivable timescale. So the conditions that are happening now, they won't go away," Richard Betts, head of Climate Impacts Research at Britain's Met Office Hadley Centre, who co-authored the review, told a news conference in London on Monday, January 13th.

According to Reuters, the concerned review concluded that climate change has exacerbated the severity and intensity of what scientists call "fire weather" – periods of high risk of fire due to high temperatures, low humidity, low precipitation, and strong winds.

Since the devastating fires started in September, at least 27 people have been killed and more than 2,000 homes and a land area of 100,000 square kilometres, more than South Korea, have been destroyed.

The fires in Australia are associated with the country's worsening droughts and the intensification of climate change, while scientists in the long term expect these severe weather events to recur at a worse rate.

The year 2019 was the hottest and driest in Australia.

The scale of the disaster has sparked a wave of solidarity around the world and an influx of donations to help the affected population and animals, AFP said.

The animal and plant cover in Australia, which includes unique species, has been seriously damaged. It is estimated that about a billion animals have been killed in the fires.