SYDNEY • Australia yesterday began the first hearings in a powerful inquiry into the causes of catastrophic bush fires that swept across the country, killing 33 people, destroying some 2,500 homes and razing an area the size of South Korea.
The two-week hearing of the royal commission, sitting in Canberra but being conducted electronically, started with a focus on the changing global climate and natural disaster risk. The commission heard from a leading government scientist that last summer’s crisis was not a “one-off event”.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s head of climate monitoring, Dr Karl Braganza, said a prolonged drought was one of the key factors that led to the dangerous fires.
Fuelled by the three-year dry spell, which experts have attributed to climate change, hundreds of wildfires burned across Australia’s east coast for months before finally being extinguished in February.
“The tragic loss of life, the destruction of homes, the significant loss of livestock and millions of hectares of forest has been devastating and continues to deeply affect people and their recovery,” Mr Mark Binskin, chair of the inquiry, said in an e-mailed statement .
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the commission will investigate over six months preparedness for future bush fires and the need for any changes to the law to clarify who is responsible for overseeing emergency authorities.
Australia has seen dozens of inquests into the causes of bush fires and steps that could be taken to mitigate them. But many measures recommended by inquiries going back to the 1930s have still not been implemented.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE