Parts of Australia finally get some much-needed heavy rain
The rain will not be enough to put out all the fires, but will help to contain them
Intense thunderstorms with heavy rains dampened bushfires on Australia's east coast on Friday and brought relief to farmers in three states battling a drought that has left much of the country tinder dry.
Australia, famous for its pristine beaches and wildlife, has been fighting bushfires since September. At least 29 people and millions of animals have been killed in the flames, more than 2,500 homes destroyed and an area roughly a third the size of Germany completely razed.
Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, three of the most affected states, saw heavy downpours of rain, which is forecast to continue through the weekend.
Fire services said that while the rain will not extinguish all the blazes, it will help greatly to contain them. It will not be before March that rains heavy enough will bring sustained relief from the dry weather that has fuelled the deadly fires, the country's weather bureau said on Thursday.
"Our fingers are crossed that this continues over the coming days," New South Wales fire services said on Twitter on Friday.
While the wet weather brings relief to firefighters and drought-hit farmers, it also comes with dangers, such as flash flooding and falling trees, many of which have been left structurally destroyed by the intense bushfires.
In Melbourne, the storms have helped disperse smoke, which sheathed the city and disrupted the Australian Open qualifying matches and other sporting competitions, but winds are set to bring back unhealthy air over the weekend.
The smoke haze that has plagued Australia's major cities for weeks has been tracked by NASA, and the space agency's satellites showed on Thursday there is also a large concentration of lower smoke over the Pacific Ocean.
There were still 82 fires burning across New South Wales early Friday, 30 uncontained, and several fires in Victoria, according to fire authorities.
Australia's top tourism body estimates the country's bushfire crisis has so far cost the industry almost A$1 billion ($900 million Cdn).