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No end in sight to Australia's bushfires, smoke reaches South America


There is no end in sight to Australia's months'-long bushfire catastrophe despite the arrival of rain in recent days. Forecasters say the ingredients for dangerous bushfire development will remain in place.

New South Wales remains under a state of emergency as around 130 fires continue to burn across the Australian state. Fires are also threatening parts of Victoria and the Australia Capital Territory.

At least 25 fatalities have been blamed on the fires burning across the country since October, according to The Associated Press. More than 2,000 buildings have been destroyed.

"The fires are still burning, and they'll be burning for months to come," said Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who pledged to increase the amount of funding needed to battle the extreme fires.

Read more: An account from smoke-filled Sydney | Australia’s bushfire crisis means asking hard questions – and listening to the answers | How manipulation of climate change science polluted the debate

Red dots indicate the rampant wildfires across Australia while Cyclone Blake can be seen nearing landfall in the state of Western Australia. (Image/NASA)

On Monday, the government pledged an additional AU$2 billion to the fire recovery fund that will help rebuild towns and infrastructure that have been destroyed, according to the AP.

There was some additional good news early this week as the combination of cooler air and the first widespread rainfall in weeks aided firefighting efforts in southeastern Australia.

Sydney residents were heard cheering a soaking rain that fell across the city on Monday as fire crews continued to try to gain control over blazes burning west of the city.

The rainfall has been beneficial for firefighting efforts but not heavy enough to extinguish the massive blazes that are ongoing across the region.

Even in areas that were not being directly affected by ongoing fires, smoke and haze from the blazes were causing problems.

Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide have all endured spells of dangerous smoke and haze since the fires began.

As the poor air quality continued, Canberra reported higher levels of pollution in the air on Monday than Beijing, China, and New Delhi, India.

The smoke was so thick in Melbourne that visibility was less than 0.40 of a kilometer (0.25 of a mile) for several hours.

The smoke also continued to hinder rescue efforts in the community of Mallacoota where 340 people were still awaiting evacuation on Tuesday more than a week after the coastal town was cut off by raging fires.

The fires have been burning so long that smoke has traversed the Pacific Ocean with winds blowing the smoke as far away as South America.

Air pollution warnings were put in place on Monday, and little improvement is expected into the middle of the week.

Another change in the weather may improve air quality but raise the risk for new wildfires later this week.

Firefighters will be at risk for dangerous conditions as winds will increase and shift direction suddenly from Friday into early Saturday.

Along with the increase in winds, temperatures will soar well above normal across Victoria and much of New South Wales.

Cooler air will sweep across southeastern Australia from Saturday into Sunday before heat returns again next week.

By Eric Leister, AccuWeather senior meteorologist