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Australia mourns wildfire victims

February 23, 2020

A ceremony has been held in Sydney for the 25 people who lost their lives during the bushfires. Despite public outrage about his handling of the crisis, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was in attendance.

A choir sings at a memorial sevice for the victims of the Australia wildfires
Image: Getty Images/C. Spencer

Members of the public, firefighters and politicians commemorated the lives of the 25 New South Wales (NSW) residents who were killed in the recent wildfire crisis that devastated the country.

Among the 25 victims, 19 were civilians, three were local volunteer firefighters and three were firefighters from the United States.

A total of 33 people in Australia lost their lives to the fires and 2,500 homes were destroyed. Over a billion native animals were killed and a wilderness area the size of South Korea was demolished.

"Each one of those is a story of grief, of profound loss, and great sadness, of lives cut short, and of families being changed forever," said NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, who played a very public role during the bushfires.

Six pairs of boots were placed to symbolize the lives of the 6 firefighters who were killed in the fires in NSW.

Read more: Australia: My country is burning

Australien Sydney Gedenkfeier für Opfer der Waldbrände
Sydney's Qudos Bank Arena was the venue for Saturday's commemoration of those killed in Asutralia's wildfiresImage: Reuters/L. Elliott

Prime minister attends despite criticisms

In what has been deemed as an unusually prolonged bushfire season, wildfires first broke out in September 2019. It took until February before most of the fires were extinguished partly as a result of torrential rains.

NSW, Australia's most populous state, was the worst affected by the wildfires.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison attended Sunday’s ceremony, thanking those who fought the fires and honoring the victims.

Addressing the public, Morrison recalled: "a summer where the dark sky turned black and sunsets only signaled another night of terror, where the fire crashed on our beaches from the bush that surrounded them."

The Australian leader spoke of "children kissing the coffins of their fathers" and "mothers who should have never had to bury their children."

Last week, Morrison said authorities would carry out an inquiry into the causes of the blazes following public fury. Dozens of requests have already been made into the causes of the fires.

The prime minister has faced widespread criticism for his rejection of the role of climate change in the bushfires as well as for his handling of the crisis.

Morrison was forced into a rare public apology after his holiday to Hawaii in the middle of the wildfires sparked a national outcry.

Australia set up a national inquiry on February 13. The Royal Commission inquiry has been assigned to find ways to improve Australia’s preparedness and response to natural disasters. However, the probe was also criticized for diverting efforts on tackling the problem directly.

Australia‘s opposition Labor party accused Morrison of trying to "shift attention to the things that he thinks are politically convenient to talk about" rather than "actually fixing climate change and getting emissions under control."

Saving the animals! Australia after the fires

mvb/mm (Reuters, AP)

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