Parts of Canberra evacuated as bushfire conditions return

Alisha Stoneham returns to her property, where she and her partner were nearly caught in the flames before narrowly escaping, following the recent bushfires in Conjola Park, New South Wales, Australia, January 21, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Some residents of Australia’s capital Canberra had to be evacuated, even if briefly, on Wednesday after a bushfire broke out near the airport as searing hot weather ended a few days of respite and the number of out-of-control blazes surged in the southeast of the country.

Roads were closed and the authorities told people to leave or stay away from suburbs east of Canberra, as photos posted on social media showed grey smoke billowing above the city’s suburbs. There were no reports of injuries or damage, and the warning was downgraded an hour later.

In recent weeks, Canberra and the cities of Sydney and Melbourne experienced air quality rated among the worst in the world under thick clouds of bushfire smoke.

The fire broke out as a huge dust storm crossed the country’s south, leaving skies deep orange and engulfing some outback towns, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Since September, hundreds of wildfires in Australia have killed 29 people as well as an estimated 1 billion native animals, while incinerating 2,500 homes and a total area of bushland larger than the size of Austria.

Firefighters had taken advantage of rain and milder temperatures in the past week to contain blazes, but the respite ended on Wednesday when high temperatures and winds returned.