SYDNEY – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged foreign tourists not to be deterred by deadly wildfires that have razed large swathes and sent smoke as far as South America, even as authorities fretted about renewed dangers ahead.
Morrison made the plea on Wednesday as he visited Kangaroo Island, a usually wildlife-rich tourist attraction off the south coast hit twice in recent weeks by blazes.
“Australia is open, Australia is still a wonderful place to come and bring your family and enjoy your holidays,” Morrison told reporters after meeting tourism operators and farmers.
“Even here on Kangaroo Island, where a third of the island has obviously been decimated, two-thirds of it is open and ready for business,” he said. “It’s important to keep the local economies vibrant at these times.”
Tourism accounts for 3.1 % of Gross Domestic Product and last summer season Australia attracted 2.71 million holidaymakers. But this year, hotel occupancy has dropped and some normally crowded resorts are ghost towns due to the crisis.
Officials confirmed another firefighter died in a vehicle crash last Friday while on duty, bringing the death toll to 26.
In Victoria state, authorities urged people in fire-risk areas to consider evacuating, ahead of a temperature spike on Friday that could fan fires.
“These fires remain dangerous, they remain dynamic, remain volatile, and the conditions we are going to see can give significant life to these fires,” Victoria Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said.
Thousands of people are homeless due to fires that have scorched more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land – an area the size of South Korea.
Many towns were without power and telecommunications and some were running low on drinking water supplies. Smoke has blanketed cities including Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
The bushfires follow a three-year drought that experts link to climate change and that has left bushland tinder-dry.