Aussie bushfires spark global concerns: ‘Wake-up call to the world’


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday offered condolences to Australia “for the tragic loss of life and property caused by the devastating wildfires across the region”.

Speaking to reporters at State Department headquarters, Mr Pompeo said the US-Australian alliance was unbreakable and American firefighters had flown to Australia to help.

His comments came at the start of a much-anticipated press conference in Washington DC about simmering tensions with Iran.

“If you have questions about the Middle East and Iraq, I certainly will take some questions today but first I want to offer my condolences to the people of Australia for the tragic loss of life and property caused by the devastating wildfires across that region,” Mr Pompeo told reporters.

“America’s thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, and the emergency service personnel putting themselves in harm’s way.

“The same goes to for the dozens of US firefighting personnel who are standing side-by-side with our Australian friends fighting the flames together.

“As I said when I was in Sydney just this past summer, we have a truly unbreakable alliance.

“They are great friends and we are happy to help the Aussies in this time of need.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offers condolences to Australia on January 7, 2020, at the State Department in Washington. Picture: AP /Jacquelyn MartinSource:AP

On the other side of the world, British MPs were told the Australian bushfires were a “wake-up call for the world”, ahead of a parliamentary debate on the crisis.

In a statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday, Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said the UK was shocked by the blazes “laying waste to so much”.

“We pay tribute to the firefighters and all those who are putting their lives at risk,” he said.

“The magnitude of the disaster unfolding in Australia should shock us all, with human and animal lives and precious species of fauna being destroyed.

“This is a wake-up call for the world.”

Afire seen from the Royal Australian Navy's HMAS Adelaide ship off the coast in Eden in New South Wales. Picture: Australian Department of Defence / AFP

Afire seen from the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Adelaide ship off the coast in Eden in New South Wales. Picture: Australian Department of Defence / AFPSource:AFP

Mr Hoyle expressed the House’s “deepest sympathies” for the people of Australia and sent a “message of solidarity” to their colleagues in the Australian parliament.

“All Australians are in our thoughts and prayers,” he added.

Twenty-five people have died since the start of the disaster in September, more than 1800 homes have been destroyed, and some eight million hectares has burned, an area the size of Ireland or South Carolina.

The human toll was again laid bare Tuesday, as firefighters held a memorial in Sydney for 36-year-old colleague Andrew O’Dwyer who died battling blazes in late December.

Volunteers in bright orange fire suits lined the road as his cortege passed – with the coffin draped in a Rural Fire Service flag.

Smoke from the fires has been spotted more than 12,000km away in Chile and Argentina, weather authorities in the South American countries said. An estimated one billion animals have been killed in the fires, with many more injured.

Flinders Chase National Park after bushfires swept through on Kangaroo Island, southwest of Adelaide, Tuesday, January 7, 2020. Picture: AAP /David Mariuz

Flinders Chase National Park after bushfires swept through on Kangaroo Island, southwest of Adelaide, Tuesday, January 7, 2020. Picture: AAP /David MariuzSource:AAP

RFS volunteer Andrew O'Dwyer’s order of service funeral was held at Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church in Horsley Park, Sydney on January 7, 2020. Picture: Dean Lewins/Getty Images

RFS volunteer Andrew O’Dwyer’s order of service funeral was held at Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church in Horsley Park, Sydney on January 7, 2020. Picture: Dean Lewins/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Charlotte O'Dwyer, the young daughter of Rural Fire Service volunteer Andrew O'Dwyer stands in front of her fathers casket as she looks at the service medal presented to her by RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. Picture: Dean Lewins/Getty Images

Charlotte O’Dwyer, the young daughter of Rural Fire Service volunteer Andrew O’Dwyer stands in front of her fathers casket as she looks at the service medal presented to her by RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. Picture: Dean Lewins/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Dozens of vast blazes continue to burn out of control across the east of the country and there are growing fears that two fires in New South Wales and Victoria could connect to form another uncontrollable megablaze.

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons described current conditions as “much more favourable” but warned “we are expecting hotter weather to return later in the week”.

Rainfall on Monday offered modest relief, but it was not heavy enough in most areas to extinguish the fires, and in some places it hampered firefighters’ preparations by making backburning more difficult.

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An injured Koala is seen at a forest near Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island, southwest of Adelaide, Tuesday, January 7, 2020. Picture: AAP /David Mariuz.

An injured Koala is seen at a forest near Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island, southwest of Adelaide, Tuesday, January 7, 2020. Picture: AAP /David Mariuz.Source:AAP

The cost of the disaster is still not clear, but the Insurance Council of Australia said claims worth A$700 million had already been filed and the figure was expected to climb significantly.

The government has earmarked an initial A$2 billion for a national recovery fund to help devastated communities.

megan.palin@news.com.au | @Megan_Palin





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