Record dry November in Australia fuels deadly fires

Fire service volunteers and officers fight a bush fire in Termeil, New South Wales, Australia, on Dec 3, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia recorded its lowest level of rainfall for the month of November, the country's weather bureau said on Thursday (Dec 5), as an unrelenting drought fuels deadly bush fires.

All of Australia received less then 50mm of rain in November, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said, with parts of the west coast receiving less than 1mm.

The dry weather extends a drought that has gripped Australia's east coast for three years and left bushland tinder-box dry as bush fires rage across the most populous states.

Bush fires have killed at least four people and destroyed more than 400 homes since the start of November. Fires are still burning in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland states.

The dry weather is not expected to break for at least another three months, BOM said last week, heightening the risk of more bush fires.

With no rain relief, firefighters on Thursday continued to battle more than 100 blazes across the east coast, and with winds set to strengthen, the authorities are worried the fires may spread.

"Today will be a long and challenging day," the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said in a statement.

The crisis has put pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison, as critics say the Australian leader has not done enough to address the impact of climate change, which meteorologists have said was extending the length of the fire weather season.

Besides bush fires, the dry weather has also had a devastating impact on Australia's agriculture sector.

Australia's chief commodity forecaster on Tuesday cut its wheat production forecast by nearly 20 per cent for the year through June 2020, with output expected to fall to an 11-year low.

As Australian farmers were harvesting crops, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences pegged production of the country's largest rural export at 15.85 million tonnes, down nearly 18 per cent from its previous estimate in September of 19.2 million tonnes.

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