(CBS) — Rain and cooler temperatures are bringing some relief this morning for communities devastated by the out-of-control bush fires raging across Australia.
Nearly 20 million acres have burned, and authorities say the fires could keep burning for months.
At least 25 people have died as a result of the fires since September. It’s estimated nearly half a billion animals are also dead.
Entire towns have been devastated.
Authorities across southeast Australia are racing to get people to safety, using the light rain and cool weather for cover after supercharged fires continued to ravage the continent over the weekend.
One officer told a group of evacuees, “We cannot guarantee your safety at present.”
One young woman said, “It’s like something out of a horror movie. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Correspondent Jamie Yuccas reports that, while conditions improved slightly, people in the Australian capital of Canberra had the worst air quality of any major city in the world earlier today. The smell of the smoke is still strong.
The fires have scorched nearly 20 million acres of land, forcing thousands to flee.
One woman told CBS News, “My neighbor stayed to defend his property, and he contacted me this morning to say sorry, but my house is gone.”
Fire officials here in New South Wales say the flames roared through here so quickly that the fire consumed cars, homes and vegetation at a rate of seven miles in two hours, reports correspondent Jamie Yuccas.
Australian firefighters are working around the clock, battling both the fierce flames and exhaustion as a crew of U.S. firefighters arrive to provide welcome assistance.”All the crews in here are just hurting, they’re tired,” one firefighter said.
Evacuee Margaret Fitzpatrick came back to find both her neighbors’ homes burned down, but hers still standing.
Yuccas asked her, “Did you ever think you’d ever see something of this magnitude in Australia?”
“Never. Never,” she replied.
“For people watching in the United States, what would you want them to know?”
“Just the spirit of everyone banding together and helping each other,” Fitzpatrick replied. “Even though a lot of people have lost a lot of things, we still have that really good community spirit.”
The Australian government has pledged nearly US$1.5 billion to the recovery effort.
Authorities can look forward to just one more day of favorable firefighting conditions before the flames intensify once again.