Australia begins wide-ranging enquiry into deadly bushfires

FILE PHOTO: The remains of cars that were burnt during the bushfire season, are piled up in the community of Wytaliba, New South Wales, Australia January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia on Monday began the first hearings of a powerful inquiry into the causes of catastrophic bushfires that swept across the country, killing 33 people, destroying some 2,500 homes and razing an area the size of South Korea.

Fuelled by three years of drought, which experts have attributed to climate change, hundreds of fires, some massive in size, 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,” Mark Binskin, chair of the inquiry, said in an emailed statement .

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the six-month Royal Commission will investigate preparedness for future bushfires and the need for any changes to the law to clarify who is responsible for overseeing emergency authorities.

A two-week hearing of the royal commission, sitting in Canberra but being conducted electronically, has started with a focus on the changing global climate and natural disaster risk.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry

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