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Every Wildfire In New South Wales, Australia, Is Now Under Control


All right, to Australia now, where for the first time in nearly six months - that's right, six months - every fire in the country's most populated state is under control. Heavy rains, cooler temperatures, they have helped douse the country's devastating bushfires.

NPR's Nathan Rott has been reporting on those fires. He joins me now from New South Wales. And, Nate, I imagine this must just be such welcome news. Are people there exhaling with relief?

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Yeah, it's like a palpable weight has been lifted off of people's shoulders. You know, for months, you know, millions of people, not just in some of the rural areas that we've been, but in big cities, you know, are breathing smoke, dealing with water shortages, road closures, evacuation notices and just living in this - with this general fear of the next fire to come. We spoke to the leader of the New South Wales recovery efforts, Mick Willing, yesterday. And he said this containment news is great, great, great news with a big grin.


MICK WILLING: They're contained, which allows us to enhance our recovery efforts across the board. We've got people out there still who need the essentials - water, food, those things. So that's happening as we speak. Other parts of the state, we're working on industry support, tourism, animals and agriculture and the environment as well. So it's all part of one, big recovery effort that's going to take a long time, I'm afraid.

ROTT: A lot of time and a lot of money, we should say.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, it's hard to capture quite how devastating these fires have been and going on for so long.

ROTT: Yeah. I mean, it's hard to find a modern comparison really. I mean, these fires dwarf anything we've seen in California, where I usually am. They're bigger than last year's fires in the Amazon. We've been driving along the eastern coast and inland of the country for the last few days, and, I mean, you can literally drive for hours and just see burnt vegetation or land on either side of the road. And that's just one state. This also happened in Queensland. It happened in Victoria. I've seen damage estimates in the billions. Thousands of homes destroyed. And that's not to mention, you know, I think a lot of people have heard this figure, but more than a billion animals were killed.

KELLY: More than a billion animals, wow. Given all that, what does recovery look like? When you ask people there what the priorities are, what are you hearing?

ROTT: Well, I mean, for people, like, one of the biggest things is just trying to get the economy going again. Something that's kind of notable that I feel like people should know is driving around, we've also seen a lot of regrowth already happening. So - and we're talking about, like, forest, ecosystems. You see sprouts poking out of charred trees, you know, fresh grass growing. Some of the ecologists we've talked to do say that they expect forest to recover.

And obviously, Australia is a place a lot of people come to see koalas, kangaroos, the bush. You know, when we're talking about the economy, one of the bigger issues that people are dealing with is tourism has been hit really hard by these fires. This is the Australian summer. It is prime vacation time.

We talked to a cafe owner at one of the coastal towns we visited yesterday. His name is Paul O'Connor, and he said that during the holidays, they lost electricity. And they also didn't have any staff because all their people were protecting homes.

PAUL O'CONNOR: We didn't open the doors for 10 full days, and that was during historically our 10 busiest days of the year. So it was, you know - yeah, it was tough.

ROTT: And, you know, we're hearing stories like that all along the coast.

KELLY: And just real quick, Nate, I imagine they are facing a potential double whammy - the fires, and then Australia gets a ton of tourists from China, who are now grappling with coronavirus.

ROTT: Yeah, Chinese tourism accounts for more than $10 billion in revenue in Australia every year. And there is a travel ban right now from all of China because of coronavirus. So that's a lot of tourists who might not be coming here.

KELLY: That is NPR's Nathan Rott covering recovery efforts there in Australia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.