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Australia's deadly fires: What you need to know

In this image, the Australian flag is seen behind a red sky.
The Australian flag flies under red skies from fires on Jan. 4 in Bruthen, Victoria. Photos: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Sunday of plans for a judicial inquiry into the country's wildfires as he admitted there were "things I could have handled on the ground much better."

Why it matters: Morrison has faced weeks of criticism over his leadership over the deadly fires since he went on vacation to Hawaii as much of the country burned in December, forcing him to cut short his trip. He's also been criticized over his government's climate policies.

What he's saying: "There is obviously a need for a national review of the response," said Morrison, adding that a royal commission, or high-powered judicial inquiry, "would be necessary." He pledged to take a proposal through the cabinet, but he said "it must be done with consultations with the states and territories."

The state of play: Fires in the states of Victoria and New South Wales conjoined and burned at least 1,976 acres, and as over 2 million acres burned in Victoria's East Gippsland region, the Victorian Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said Saturday morning. All times below are local.

In Victoria, a firefighter died in the Omeo region, Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman confirmed Saturday — bringing the death toll to at least 26 people.

  • Weather is forecast to be steady for the next few days, with more moisture in the air to aid containment, fire incident controller Paul Bates said Saturday evening. But he said, "We're a long way from the end of this. We're at only mid-January, and we've got a long way to go in terms of our fire season."
QuoteWe've still got several weeks of this fire to go."
— Bates

In New South Wales, 123 fires were burning Sunday afternoon, 47 of which were uncontained, the NSW Rural Fire Service said.

  • All fires have been downgraded to the lowest emergency warning, but the NSW RFS said: "With easing conditions, we have also seen an increase in smoke impacting a number of areas across the state."

The impact: The bushfires have burned over 20 million acres of land across Australia —including more than 12 million acres in NSW, per the Guardian.

The big picture: The intense heat has caused more than 20 firestorms — or unusual thunderstorms partially fueled by heat from the flames — over the past week, according to NASA, which notes that "strong winds from these storms can fan fires into raging infernos." Smoke particles from the fires have spread east over the Pacific Ocean.

U.S. response: American firefighters have joined those in New South Wales and Victoria this month, along with the Australian Defense Force and some 3,000 Defense Force Reservists to help tackle the blazes.

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.