Clive Bull 1am - 4am
Australian wildfires: Two blazes merge to create massive inferno
11 January 2020, 15:28
Two wildfires have merged to create a "mega blaze" which is expected to burn for weeks in south-eastern Australia.
A 640,000-hectare inferno formed overnight when two fires joined in the Snowy Mountains region near Tumbarumba, close to the Victorian border.
One man suffered serious burns while trying to protect a home in the small New South Wales town during a night that was plagued by treacherous conditions.
The individual was airlifted to a Sydney hospital in a serious condition, with several others receiving minor burns.
Strong winds and lightning strikes sparked fresh fires in the states of NSW and Victoria as the crisis continues to grip the nation.
The damage caused by the new blazes is being assessed after firefighters were forced to battle the flames overnight.
New South Wales Rural Fire Service spokesperson Anthony Clark said: "What we're really seeing with a number of these fires merging is a number of small fires started by lightning strikes across the landscape.
"And as they grow, we see fires merging."
Meanwhile, another firefighter was killed in the town of Omeo, Victoria, while trying to tackle the wildfires.
It has taken the death toll since the crisis began in September to 26 people, with more than 2,000 homes being destroyed, wildlife being decimated, and an area larger than the US state of Indiana being scorched.
NASA has released an animation that shows how smoke from the fires has reached the lower stratosphere and traveled as far away as Chile.
Authorities are hoping for cooler conditions and rain over the next week to help suppress the blazes.
However, with no heavy rain expected, the 1.58 million-acre blaze that formed overnight is expected to continue burning for weeks.
"In the scheme of things, we did okay last night," said Andrew Crisp, Victoria's emergency management commissioner.
New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters that officials were "extremely relieved" the fires were not more destructive overnight.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison's conservative government has faced criticism in failing to do enough to tackle climate change, which experts say has exacerbated the flames.
Thousands of protesters rallied late on Friday in Sydney and Melbourne, calling for Mr Morrison to be sacked and for Australia to take tougher action on global warming.
The protesters carried placards saying: "We can't breathe," referring to wildfire smoke that has choked both cities.
Australia is the world's biggest exporter of coal and liquid natural gas, with Australians also among the worst greenhouse gas emitters per capita.
On Friday, thousands of people in the path of fires fled to evacuation centres, while some chose to ignore evacuation orders and stayed to defend their homes.
In the end, the winds died down as well as the fires. But crews worry the flames will flare up again during a fire season that could continue for months.