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Deluge in Australia drenches fires and eases three-year drought


A bushfire burns in New South Wales (Noah Berger/AP)

A bushfire burns in New South Wales (Noah Berger/AP)

A bushfire burns in New South Wales (Noah Berger/AP)

A deluge in eastern parts of Australia has drenched deadly wildfires and helped ease a crippling drought.

However, experts said it will take some time yet to know to what extent the rainfall has replenished dried-up rivers and quenched parched soil in some inland areas most affected by the three-year drought.

Quentin Grafton, an economics professor and water expert at Australian National University in Canberra, said the rain had broken the drought in some towns but had not fallen evenly across all the affected areas.

"At this stage, it's very good news, and certainly much more than people could have wished for or expected," he said of the rainfall. "There are some very happy people."

Mr Grafton said drought had badly affected an area of more than 1.5 million square kilometres (580,000 square miles), which is larger than the country of Ethiopia. He said monitoring on major rivers over the coming days should provide a clearer picture of how much the rain has helped.

Fire authorities had a reason to celebrate, with many wildfires being extinguished or significantly dampened down by the rain.

On Saturday, authorities declared that the Currowan fire, south of Sydney, was finally out after destroying more than 300 homes and razing 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) over two-and-a-half months.

"This is the most positive news we've had in some time," the New South Wales Rural Fire Service tweeted on Monday. "The recent rainfall has assisted firefighters to put over 30 fires out since Friday. Some of these blazes have been burning for weeks and even months."

In all, Australia's wildfires killed at least 33 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes.

The fires began causing widespread destruction towards the end of 2019, which was both the hottest and driest year in Australia's recorded history, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

During the deluge over recent days, coastal areas have experienced some of the heaviest rainfall, which has caused flash flooding in some places. Sydney, the central coast and the Blue Mountains have received up to 16in since Friday, representing some of the heaviest falls in decades.

Dams in the greater Sydney area were more than 64% full on Monday after being only 42% full a week earlier, according to officials. More rain is forecast over the coming days.

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