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Australian PM apologises for family holiday amid wildfires

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said if he had his time over he ‘would have made different decisions’.

NSW Rural Fire Service crews fight the Gospers Mountain fire at Bilpin (Dan Himbrechts/AAP Images via AP/PA)
NSW Rural Fire Service crews fight the Gospers Mountain fire at Bilpin (Dan Himbrechts/AAP Images via AP/PA)

By Associated Press reporter

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has apologised for taking a family holiday in Hawaii as deadly wildfires raged across several states, destroying homes and claiming the lives of two volunteer firefighters.

Mr Morrison cut short a break with his wife and adult children amid public anger at his absence from Australia at a time of national crisis.

He arrived home on Saturday and on Sunday morning spoke to reporters while visiting the headquarters of the Rural Fire Service in Sydney.

“If you had your time over again and you had the benefit of hindsight, we would have made different decisions,” Mr Morrison said.

Mr Morrison received heavy criticism for travelling to Hawaii with his family in the middle of the national emergency (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

“I am sure Australians are fair-minded and understand that when you make a promise to your kids you try and keep it. But as prime minister, you have other responsibilities and I accept that and I accept the criticism.”

Mr Morrison said this was not a time for political point-scoring but a “time to be kind to each other”.

He said he is not a trained firefighter, “but I’m comforted by the fact that Australians would like me to be here just simply so I can be here, alongside them, as they are going through this terrible time.”

Morrison also answered critics who say his government has not done enough to fight climate change, which has been cited as a major factor in the spate of fires burning across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

He said there were also “many other factors” responsible for the unprecedented number of fires during a record-breaking heatwave.

“There is no argument … about the links between broader issues of global climate change and weather events around the world,” he said.

“But I’m sure people equally would acknowledge that the direct connection to any single fire event — it’s not a credible suggestion to make that link.”

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fizsimmons described Saturday as an “awful day” for firefighters as strong southerly winds fanned more than 100 fires in New South Wales alone.

The fast-moving fires scorched trees, cars, outbuildings and everything else in its path, leaving residents scrambling to find shelter.

Steve Harrison, a resident of the village of Balmoral, said: “When it came, it came in like three or four minutes, just a big plume of black smoke and then ember fallout.”

In an interview with ABC, Mr Harrison described how he frantically tried to turn on the sprinklers on buildings in his property on Saturday but within minutes found himself trapped, unable to escape.

Mr Harrison said: “My garden was already on fire here. And the driveway was on fire, and the road was on fire. So I realised I couldn’t evacuate.”

He said he had to turn to his Plan B – hiding in a small kiln, the size of a coffin, that he had built the day before.

It was just big enough for him to crawl inside, he said.

“I hid in there for half-an-hour while the firestorm went over,” he said.

Dozens of homes have been lost since Thursday in massive wildfires, including the Gospers Mountain blaze that covered more than 460,000 hectares (1.1 million acres).

A fire-generated thunderstorm formed over one blaze at Shoalhaven on Saturday, escalating the fire danger.

Thirty firefighters from Canada and nine from the United States were among fresh crews set to join the battle against the fires on Sunday.



From Belfast Telegraph