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Aussie PM sorry for going on holiday amid bushfire crisis

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He cuts short family trip to Hawaii and visits exhausted firefighters struggling to contain deadly blazes for months

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited firefighters battling Australia's bushfires yesterday, after cutting short a Hawaiian holiday that unleashed public outrage.

Mr Morrison toured the headquarters of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service - whose exhausted volunteers have been struggling to contain deadly, out-of-control-blazes for months - where he offered an apology and admitted he erred in travelling overseas.

"If I had our time over again, and with the benefit of hindsight, we would've made different decisions," he said.

Mr Morrison had departed for a family holiday amid record bushfires that have destroyed an area the size of Belgium and cloaked major cities in choking toxic fumes.

News of his holiday prompted protests and criticism on social media, with Australians deploying the hashtag #WhereTheBloodyHellAreYa?

"I apologise," he said. "There have been lessons learnt this week.

"I'm sure Australians are fair-minded and understand that when you make a promise to your kids, you try and keep it," Mr Morrison said by way of explanation, admitting "as prime minister, you have other responsibilities".

He again acknowledged a link between the fires and climate change, but indicated no change in pro-coal policies.

GLOBAL WARMING

Australia endures bushfires every year, but experts said global warming has intensified climatic conditions that allow the fires to thrive.

Mr Morrison also praised volunteer firefighters, who in 24 hours have faced catastrophic conditions brought by a record heatwave, gale-force winds and a continued lack of rain.

Australia's firefighting force is overwhelmingly made up of volunteers who have been strained by the intensity and the length of this year's fire season.

Conditions eased markedly yesterday, giving them time to count the toll and try to contain massive blazes near Sydney that are only likely to be extinguished with heavy rainfall.

"We've seen widespread damage and destruction being reported across a number of these fire grounds," said New South Wales Rural Fire Service boss Shane Fitzsimmons, who earlier described Saturday as "an awful day".

"We are expecting another heavy toll, unfortunately, with estimates that property loss could be in the dozens of buildings."

Officials said two fires - already big enough to create their own thunderstorms - to the south-west of Sydney had joined to form another "megafire" on the doorstep of Australia's largest city.

The fires have torched at least three million hectares of land with at least 10 people killed and more than 800 homes destroyed. - AFP

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