Despite a cool and wet Christmas, firefighters made little headway containing the bushfires in Australia, which have been burning for weeks. Conditions are expected to worsen over the weekend.
Christmas brought much needed rain and cool weather to Australia on Wednesday, but it wasn't enough to quell fears that two major bush fires blazing in a mountain range west of Sydney will meet and become one megafire over the coming weekend.
Two bush fires are burning through Australia's Blue Mountains, a mountain range in the western part of New South Wales (NSW). Some 2,000 firefighters battled the fires on Christmas Day, trying desperately to contain the blaze before temperatures spike even further this weekend.
Temperatures in NSW are expected to climb above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
For now, firefighters will use the cooler conditions to prepare by reinforcing containment lines, the NSW Rural Fire Service said on Wednesday.
The northern of the two fires has burned half a million hectares (1.2 million acres).
Fires in Adelaide
Another 200 firefighters battled blazes east of Adelaide in South Australia on Christmas. Last weekend, temperatures in the state capital went above 40 degrees Celsius.
Eight people have died in the Australian fires — two volunteer firefighters among them. The fires have destroyed nearly 1,000 homes and more than 3.7 million hectares (9.1 million acres) of land.
Christmas message from the PM
Embattled Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked volunteers in his Christmas message.
"As we look forward to next year and as we celebrate this Christmas I want to thank all of those who serve our nation," he said in a video message shared online Wednesday.
The premier has faced criticism for his decision to take a family vacation as the fires burned and for his Liberal-National coalition government's commitment to Australia's coal industry, despite evidence the fires are linked to climate change.
South Australia Country Fire Chief Mark Jones told local media that, despite the holiday, volunteers were prepared to jump in.
"Fires don't discriminate whether it's Christmas Day or not," he said. "And our firefighters don't discriminate either."
kp/aw (dpa, Reuters)