Death toll in Australia bushfires rises to four

A firefighter puts spot fires out in Old Bar, 350km north of Sydney on November 11, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 November 2019

Death toll in Australia bushfires rises to four

  • More than 100 blazes were burning on Thursday
  • Hundreds of houses have already been damaged or destroyed

BURRELL CREEK, Australia: The death toll from devastating bushfires in eastern Australia has risen to four after a man’s body was discovered in a scorched area of bushland, police said Thursday.

Three others have perished in bushfires in New South Wales, the state worst affected by a series of catastrophic fires that broke out along the eastern seaboard late last week.

Residents found the body — believed to be a 58-year-old man last seen on Friday — near the New South Wales town of Kempsey, one of several areas hit by the fires in recent days.

More than 100 blazes were burning on Thursday but a respite from tough conditions has seen the danger from many fires downgraded and residents returning to sift through the remains of their homes.

Hundreds of houses have already been damaged or destroyed and more than one million hectares (2.5 million acres) of land burnt in the blazes.

Challenging conditions were expected to flare again in Queensland and New South Wales at the weekend as the temperature rises and winds pick up, and many blazes are still proving difficult to contain.

In Burrell Creek, dozens of firefighters were preparing to battle an out-of-control bushfire that has so far engulfed 24,000 hectares from the coastal town of Old Bar inland to Hillville in northern New South Wales.

Native wildlife has also been badly hit by the bushfires, with conservationists estimating that hundreds of koalas have perished.

As many as 350 koalas died in a single nature reserve near Port Macquarie alone, raising fears for the future of the creature in the area.

Nick Boyle, of Taronga Conservation Society, said “our hearts are breaking” not only for the victims but also for the “defenseless wildlife” that had been killed by the state’s “earliest and worst” bushfire season.

“Pressures on the koala were already compounding,” he said, citing habitat loss and non-native predators. “And now this.”

Bushfire-prone Australia is experiencing a horrific start to its fire season, which scientists say is being exacerbated by climate change.

The Bureau of Meteorology says human-caused climate change is increasing the “frequency and severity” of dangerous bushfire conditions by raising temperatures, sapping moisture from the environment and causing an earlier and more extreme fire season.

The bushfires have created mounting pressure on the conservative government to curb fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia’s leaders, ever-conscious of the country’s economic reliance on mining exports, have been steadfastly ignoring those calls.


Meghan seeks to stop tabloid naming friends in UK legal battle

Updated 38 min 56 sec ago

Meghan seeks to stop tabloid naming friends in UK legal battle

  • Meghan is taking on Mail on Sunday to court
  • Duchess says 5 friends have right to privacy

LONDON: Meghan, Britain's Duchess of Sussex, on Thursday sought a court order to stop the publisher of the Mail on Sunday tabloid from revealing the names of five friends who could be witnesses in an ongoing legal dispute, according to a court filing.
Meghan, wife of Queen Elizabeth's grandson Prince Harry, is suing publisher Associated Newspapers over articles the Mail on Sunday printed last year that included parts of a handwritten letter she sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.
Markle and his daughter have not spoken since he pulled out of appearing at her wedding to Harry in May 2018.
The Mail justified publishing the letter by saying five unnamed friends of Meghan had put her version of events in interviews with the U.S. magazine People.
Her legal team say it was untrue she had authorised or arranged for her friends to tell People about the letter, and on Thursday said Associated Newspapers were threatening to publish their names.
"These five women are not on trial, and nor am I. The publisher of the Mail on Sunday is the one on trial," Meghan said in a witness statement to London's High Court reviewed by Reuters.
"Each of these women is a private citizen... and each has a basic right to privacy," she added, saying their names had appeared in a confidential section of her legal papers.
A spokesman for the Mail on Sunday said the newspaper had "no intention" of publishing the names of the friends this weekend, but said it had told Meghan's lawyers that the question of their confidentiality should be considered by the court.
"Their evidence is at the heart of the case and we see no reason why their identities should be kept secret," he said.
Meghan, Harry and their baby son Archie are living in Los Angeles, having stepped down from royal duties at the end of March, partly because of intense media intrusion into their lives.
In documents filed last week as part of Meghan’s privacy case, her lawyers said her friends had spoken out because of the "tremendous emotional distress" caused by "false" British tabloid press articles.
In May, the judge in the case rejected part of her claim that the paper had acted dishonestly and stoked the rift with her father. The full trial is not expected until next year.