Asia Pacific

First deaths in Australian bush fires this season are elderly couple

AFP-JIJI

An elderly couple have become the first victims of bush fires that have been ravaging drought-stricken areas of eastern Australia, police said Thursday.

The bodies of the 77-year-old man and 68-year-old woman were found in the charred remains of their home in rural New South Wales state, a police spokesman said.

A series of fires have destroyed at least 29 homes and numerous other buildings in the past week in northern New South Wales.

The worst-hit town of Rappville lost around 15 of its 200 homes when a large bush fire tore through the area earlier this week, authorities said.

Police said the Rappville fire may have been caused by arson, though investigations were continuing. The fire that killed the couple in an area known as Long Gully was not suspicious.

The Long Gully fire began Oct. 4, police said, and appeared to have destroyed the couple’s home on Tuesday. Their bodies were found Thursday morning.

Bush fires are an annual occurrence in Australia during spring and summer. But they began unusually early this year at the start of September and stretched well into the tropical areas of Queensland state to the north of New South Wales.

Large parts of New South Wales and Queensland, key agricultural regions, have been experiencing their worst drought in memory.

Researchers have warned the coming summer months could see particularly severe bush fires as forecasters are expecting the weather to remain hotter and drier than average.

The fire season usually starts in the far north of Queensland in September and slowly progresses down Australia’s eastern states, hitting New South Wales around Christmas, and Victoria and Tasmania in January and February.

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