Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he regrets being away on vacation with his family as fires raged across South Australia, resulting in the deaths of three people earlier this week.
“I have obviously returned from leave and I know that has caused some great anxiety in Australia and (my wife) Jenny and I acknowledge that,” Morrison said in a news conference on Sunday. “If you had your time over again and you had the benefit of hindsight then (you’d) have made different decisions.”
Morrison was heavily criticized for taking a pre-Christmas trip to Hawaii as thousands of firefighters worked to contain the wildfires.
“I’m sure Australians … understand that when you make a promise to your kids you try and keep it. But as prime minister you have other responsibilities,” he said at the news conference. “I accept the criticism.”
More than 105 bush and grass fires continued to burn across New South Wales – a southeastern state of Australia — early Sunday, according to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. About 59 of them were still not contained, the service said.
A state of emergency was declared in the state for the second time in two months.
The connection to climate change
The bushfires have been burning for two months now, exacerbated by strong winds that stoke the flames and spread dangerous embers, and by rising temperatures– including a record-breaking heat wave that began earlier this week.
The prime minister acknowledged there is a connection between weather events, fire events and global climate change.
At the news conference Sunday, Morrison said there is “no argument” about the links between “broader issues of global climate change and weather events around the world.”
“But I’m sure people equally would acknowledge that the direct connection to any single fire event, it’s not a credible suggestion to make that link,” he said.
“We must take action on climate change, we are taking action on climate change,” he said Sunday.
Sunday was expected to be cooler, the Bureau of Meteorology for New South Wales wrote, but many communities “away from the coast will still experience significant heat.”
‘Some have lost everything’
Since September, the death toll from the wildfires has jumped to nine, with nearly 800 homes destroyed in the country.
“Some have lost everything, some have received news their properties have been saved, & others are still waiting to find out,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Twitter. “Their common message was deep gratitude for our amazing firefighters.”
More than 2,500 firefighters have been working across the region to contain the fires.
Volunteer firefighters Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, died Thursday near the town of Buxton, southwest of Sydney. It’s believed their vehicle hit a tree before rolling off the road, said the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in a statement on Friday. Three other firefighters were also injured.
Keaton joined the RFS as a volunteer firefighter in 2006 and was deputy captain of the Horsley Park Rural Fire Brigade in western Sydney. O’Dwyer joined the service in 2003 and was also a member of the Horsley Park brigade. Both men were fathers to young children, according to CNN affiliate Nine News.
CNN’s Jessie Yeung, Jonny Hallam, Sandi Sidhu and Sugam Pokharel contributed to this report.