From fire to floods: Australia sees mixed blessings from heavy rain

Rain pools in large puddles amid burnt bushland at Bilpin, in the Blue Mountains, Australia, on Jan 17, 2020.
Rain pools in large puddles amid burnt bushland at Bilpin, in the Blue Mountains, Australia, on Jan 17, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - Emergency services in Australia's wildfire-ravaged east are switching their focus to combating expected flooding, with some areas forecast to have their heaviest rainfall in years.

With 62 wildfires still burning in New South Wales state alone, and parts of the country in the grip of drought, the deluge should bring welcome relief. Nevertheless, State Emergency Services Deputy Commissioner Daniel Austin warned that homes and businesses could be impacted by flooding.

Sky Weather chief meteorologist Tom Saunders said the rain will bring significant drought relief and should extinguish most of the fires on Australia's eastern seaboard during the next week. Sydney should have its wettest week since at least last March, he said.

The fire season has been plaguing Australia for months, burning out an area almost the size of England, killing at least 31 people and destroying more than 3,000 homes.

While Australia's conservative government, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has acknowledged that climate change has played a role in the severity of the crisis, it has rejected demands to take stronger steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, amid fierce criticism at home and abroad over its environmental policies.

The flood warnings aren't confined to the nation's east. A tropical low in Western Australia's Kimberley region is predicted to develop into an offshore tropical cyclone by Thursday (Feb 6), and may impact the iron-ore rich Pilbara region.

Meanwhile, the state's more populated south-west area will experience severe to extreme heat from Wednesday to Saturday, with dangerous fire conditions predicted.