Australian bushfires ease, promise reprieve to build defenses

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would consider opening a commission of inquiry into the blazes, amid sustained criticism of his handling of the crisis.

Morrison had so far been defiant in rejecting any links between his government's conservative policies regarding climate change and the bushfires.

The ongoing crisis, which is thought to have been worsened by climate change, has been estimated to have wiped out at least one billion animals and may have driven some species to extinction.

Thousands of people are fleeing their homes and helicopters are dropping supplies to towns at risk of wildfires as hot, windy conditions threaten already fire-ravaged southeastern Australian communities. Sydney's air quality reached a risky level in early December.

Scientists say climate change has contributed to the lengthening of the fire seasons and fuelled more frequent and intense blazes.

Those on South Australia's Kangaroo Island have been particularly exhausted after a mammoth day of Emergency level bushfires.

Footage tweeted Thursday by Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, shows the smoke eaters arriving at Sydney International Airport to a cheering crowd of locals. Two massive bushfires in southeastern Australia recently merged into one very big megafire measuring almost 1.5 million acres, NPR reported.

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"I pay tribute to his incredible service in land management and fire management over many years, and acknowledge the loss of the community and the feeling of grief today by many in the days to come, not only at this point in time".

"After lightning started the fire on October 26, it has burnt through more than 512,000 hectares across the Lithgow, Hawkesbury, Hunter Valley, Cudgegong, Blue Mountains, and Central Coast local government areas", the Hawkesbury RFS said on Facebook.

Authorities are using relatively benign conditions forecast in southeeast Australia for a week or more to consolidate containment lines around scores of fires that are likely to burn for weeks without heavy rainfall.

Bushfires in Australia have raged out of control for months, causing widespread devastation and resulting in the U.S. State Department issuing a travel advisory for the country.

Acknowledging the pressure the fire services were under, Mr Morrison said there was a "new appetite" for the government to take a more direct role in responding to the disaster.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Sydney and Melbourne late Friday to demand that Morrison be released and that Australia should take action against global warming.

Morrison has pledged A$2 billion to a newly created National Bushfire Recovery Agency.