Australia bushfires could rage for months as PM defends climate change policy

Alison Chung, news reporter

Bushfires in Australia are now burning in five different states, with emergency services warning that at least 60 fires are out of control.

New South Wales (NSW), which last week was paralysed by a seven-day state of emergency amid "catastrophic" conditions, accounts for more than half of the fires.

Officials say the NSW town of Balmoral, about 75 miles from Sydney with a population of around 400 and 150 houses, has been virtually destroyed, and up to a third of the vineyards in the South Australian capital city of Adelaide have been scorched.

Since September, the devastating blazes have killed at least nine people, including two firefighters, destroyed more than 900 homes and burned nine million acres of land.

Forecasters are expecting some respite with cooler conditions over the next few days, but are warning that temperatures are set to spike again in many states by the weekend.

Adelaide is forecast to reach 39C (102.2F), according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Similar temperatures are expected in the Victorian city of Melbourne.

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons painted a bleak long-term picture.

"We've got to keep in mind that we're not expecting any rainfall to make any meaningful difference to these fires until January or February," he said.

"That's still a way to go. We're still talking four to six weeks at best before we start to see a meaningful reprieve in the weather."

Climate change has been cited as a major factor in fires burning across New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

Mr Morrison acknowledged a link between climate change and bushfires, but said it was "not credible" to directly link specific fires to the issue .

He said: "There is no argument, in my view, or the view of the government, and any government in the country, about the links between broader issues of global climate change and weather events around the world.

"But I'm sure people would equally acknowledge the direct connection to any single fire event is not a credible suggestion."

He also rejected calls to downsize Australia's lucrative coal industry. Australia is the worlds largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas.

"I am not going to write off the jobs of thousands of Australians by walking away from traditional industries," he told Channel Seven.

Mr Morrison also apologised for going on a family holiday during the deadly bushfires.

He returned on Saturday after cutting short his Hawaii vacation with his wife and adult children following a public outcry over his absence back home during a national crisis.

Speaking during a news conference in Sydney on Sunday, Mr Morrison said with the "benefit of hindsight we would have made different decisions".

He said: "I get it that people would have been upset to know that I was holidaying with my family while their families were under great stress.

"But I'm comforted by the fact that Australians would like me to be here, just simply so I can be here, alongside them as they're going through this terrible time... and I apologise for that."

Mr Morrison said by going on holiday he was trying to keep a promise to his children, but said that he accepted as prime minister "you have other responsibilities".

"I accept that. I accept the criticism," he said.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said it was "a good thing" Mr Morrison was back in Australia "but we saw today no change in his strategy with regard to the bushfires".

"We've seen no change to climate change policy and we've seen no commitment to provide compensation to our volunteer firefighters who are giving up working and the wages that come from that in order to help their communities."

Boo has lost almost everything - and there may not be enough water to battle the fires a second time

By Katerina Vittozzi, news reporter, in the Blue Mountains, near Sydney

From the shirt on his back, to the shoes on his feet and the food in his fridge - everything Boo Oken has got, he's been given by his friends and family over the past two days.

Boo has lived in Lithgow, a small town in the Blue Mountains, for more than 30 years.

On Saturday, his house was surrounded by a ferocious wall of fire.

Boo wanted to stay and keep his home safe by tackling any flames that came close.

But fire crews told him that he and his dog Paley simply had to get out. It wasn't safe.

Boo had already badly burnt his feet, as he ran away trying to put out small fires.

Before he left, a fireman told him the house wouldn't make it. Boo said goodbye.

But incredibly, when he returned on Sunday, his home was still standing.

Boo has lost his garage, some outbuildings and two vehicles. But the structure of his house is intact, even if most things inside have got smoke damage.

Which is why, during the hour or so we spent with him, there was a near constant stream of friends and neighbours who came bearing gifts.

They had food - for Boo and his dog - clothes, shoes, beers, clean towels, toothpaste - you name, they brought it.

It was a really moving show of community spirit. And Boo is in tears, as were we.

The electricity came back on this morning at his, but the water wasn't working.

His friend, Ron, who works in the local city council popped by and explained why.

He told us the reservoir which supplies the town with water is running low.

That's not only because of the drought but because the helicopters, which have been firefighting, have been pulling from the reservoir.

Water levels across the town are dangerously low.

If these fires come back, and they may well do, there is a real concern there may not be enough water to fight them a second time around.