BURRAGATE, Australia (AP) — Another firefighter has died battling the Australian wildfire crisis and the prime minister on Sunday said his government was adapting and building resilience to the fire danger posed by climate change.
The firefighter — one of the few professionals among mainly volunteer brigades battling blazes across southeast Australia — died on Saturday near Omeo in eastern Victoria state, Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said. No details of the circumstances were released.
The tragedy brings the death toll to at least 27 people in a crisis that has destroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched an area larger than the U.S. state of Indiana since September. Four of the casualties were firefighters.
Authorities are using relatively benign conditions forecast in southeast Australia for a week or more to consolidate containment lines around scores of fires that are likely to burn for weeks without heavy rainfall. The reprieve from severe fire conditions promises to be the longest of the current fire season.
The crisis has brought accusations that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government needs to take more action to counter climate change, which experts say has worsened the blazes. Thousands of protesters rallied late Friday in Sydney and Melbourne, calling for Morrison to be fired and for Australia to take tougher action on global warming.
Morrison said his government was developing a national disaster risk reduction framework within the Department of Home Affairs that will deal with wildfires, cyclones, floods and drought. The government was currently working through the details of the framework with local governments.
“This is a longer-term risk framework model which deals with one of the big issues in response to climate changing and that is the resilience and the adaptation that we need in our community right across the country to deal with longer, hotter, drier seasons that increase the risk of bushfire,” Morrison told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Morrison said his government accepted that climate change was leading to longer, hotter and drier summers, despite junior government lawmaker George Christensen posting on social media over the weekend that the cause of the latest fires was arson rather than man-made climate change. Another junior lawmaker Craig Kelly has also publicly denied any link between climate change and fire crisis.
State authorities have said a minority of fires are deliberately lit.
“The government’s policy is set by the Cabinet. Our party room has a broad range of views,” Morrison said of those within government ranks who reject mainstream climate science.
While the fire threat is most acute in rural communities, wildfire smoke that has choked some of Australia’s largest cities is a reminder to many urban Australians of the unfolding disaster.
The sails of the iconic Sydney Opera House were illuminated on Saturday night to show support for firefighters and wildfires-affected communities. The display included messages and photographs of firefighters who were fighting wildfires over the past few months.
Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report