Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison talks to the journalists. File photo
After weeks of criticism over the handling of the bushfires scorching Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday he will propose a national review into the response to the disaster, as the fires claimed another firefighter's life.
With the Australian bush burning for nearly three months now, killing 28 people, claiming 2,000 homes and raging across millions of acres of land and wildlife, the crisis is becoming increasingly political.
"There is obviously a need for a national review of the response," Morrison said in an interview with ABC television.
Asked whether it should be a Royal Commission, a powerful judicial inquiry, Morrison said, "I think that is what would be necessary and I will be taking a proposal through the cabinet to that end, but it must be done with consultations with the states and territories."
Bushfires are common during Australia's summer months, but this fire season started unusually early, often moving quickly and unpredictably, and leaving swaths of the drought-stricken land a scorched earth.
Cooler weather conditions over the weekend have brought a temporary respite, but a firefighter died on duty in Victoria, where new flames sparked. Authorities said the risk was far from over and more hot weather is expected.
Smoke again sheathed Sydney on Sunday, almost a new normal for the country's biggest city, moving the air quality into hazardous territory, according to the NSW Department of Primary Industry index.
Facing increasing pressure to do more to tackle climate change, Morrison, who has so far been defiant in rejecting any links between his government's conservative climate policies and the bushfires, said his government will look into improving its performance on curbing emissions.
"We want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better and better at it," he said. "I want to do that with a balanced policy which recognises Australia's broader national economic interests and social interest."
Morrison rejected criticism that his government had not done enough before the bushfire season started, but he admitted that once the fires started, some responses could have been different.
The few who stayed behind in Towamba to fight spot flames and stop embers from setting their homes alight gathered on Saturday in the village hall, where supplies had been prepared and someone's vintage 1932 Chevrolet parked for safety.
Roads were closed and the authorities told people to leave or stay away from suburbs east of Canberra, as photos posted on social media showed grey smoke billowing above the city's suburbs. There were no reports of injuries or damage.
Winter, her son Riley, and a cousin had been monitoring the bushfires near the town about 250km (156 miles) south of Sydney when they decided to evacuate on New Year's Eve.
The fire, dubbed the Apple Fire by local firefighters — who routinely give blazes identifying names — was reported Friday in Cherry Valley, a community about 75 miles east of Los Angeles and had destroyed at least one family home as of Saturday evening.
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