Wildfire Deaths Force Australia PM to Cut Hawaii Vacation

Wildfire Deaths Force Australia PM to Cut Hawaii Vacation(Bloomberg) — Prime Minister Scott Morrison cut short his vacation in Hawaii and apologized for taking leave while fatal wildfires ravage Australia, reflecting the political pressure building on his government that denies the blazes are linked to climate change.“I deeply regret any offense caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires,” Morrison said in a statement Friday. After two volunteer firefighters were killed and several more seriously injured, Morrison said he “will be returning to Sydney as soon as can be arranged.”He’ll be returning to a city that’s been swathed in thick toxic smoke as about 100 fires burn in New South Wales. In that state, eight people have been killed, more than 6 million acres — an area the size of Massachusetts — have been burnt out and 800 houses destroyed, 40 of them on Thursday, since the fire season started unseasonably early in winter.On Friday the situation worsened in other states, with a person dying in a fire-linked incident in South Australia and one other person unaccounted for. More than 70 blazes were reported in the northern state of Queensland, and residents in four Victorian towns were urged to leave their homes immediately.Morrison’s decision to take leave earlier this week without informing Australians amid what he’s described as a “national disaster” have raised questions about his political judgment just seven months after he was hailed a conservative hero for leading his government to an unlikely election victory.As summer gets underway, the fires are worsening and temperatures are hitting new records. On Wednesday, the average maximum temperature across Australia reached 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.4 degrees Fahrenheit), surpassing the record 40.9 Celsius set a day earlier, according to the weather bureau. On Thursday it reached 41 Celsius, meaning those three days were the three hottest ever recorded.Morrison’s move to cut his family holiday short is an attempt to mitigate a sense among some voters of a leadership void at a time of national crisis, according to political branding expert Andrew Hughes.“This will damage Morrison’s reputation because it raises questions about his appeal to mainstream dads and mums, who are the ones fighting these fires and losing their lives,” said Hughes at the Australian National University in Canberra, the national capital that’s also shrouded in smoke. “Australians understand even prime ministers need holidays, but they’ll be questioning why he chose to do this now, and why he didn’t see the need to tell them.”During the week, Australian Twitter feeds were trending with posts asking where Morrison was as the fires worsened. His government has come under increasing criticism from environmentalists and opposition politicians for its strong support of the coal industry, refusal to put a price on carbon emissions and refusal to link the intense heat and fires to climate change.On Thursday, protesters rallied outside of Morrison’s official Sydney residence, calling for Australia to cut fossil-fuel use and exports, increase support for overworked firefighters, and turn to Indigenous land management techniques that reduced bushfire threats for thousands of years before European settlement.New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who declared a week-long emergency for her state on Thursday and warned that many people’s Christmas vacation plans will be disrupted, described the two volunteer firefighters who died as “heroes.”(Updates with South Australia death in fourth paragraph.)To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Scott in Canberra at jscott14@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Edward Johnson at ejohnson28@bloomberg.net, Ruth PollardFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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