Australia celebrates as heavy rains dampen huge bushfires

Much of Australia's wildfire-ravaged east coast was drenched on Feb. 7 by the biggest rainfall in almost 20 years, dousing some of the most dangerous blazes and providing welcome relief to farmers battling an extended drought.   

The downpour came with its own risks - officials warned of flash floods and landslides across New South Wales (NSW), Australia's most populous state - but was generally greeted jubilantly after months of devastating bushfires.    

"There's lots of smiles around the place," NSW Rural Fire Services (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, who has been more accustomed in recent weeks to delivering fire evacuation orders, told reporters in Sydney.    

"It is breaking the back of this fire season, no doubt," Fitzsimmons said. "The rain is good for business and farms as well as being really good for quenching some of these fires we've been dealing with for many, many months."   

The deluge had the effect of calming the number of active fires in NSW by 20 in a single day, a success rate that NSW RFS said it was "over the moon" about.    

By afternoon, there were 40 active fires in NSW, less than half the number of blazes at the peak of the crisis, with all burning at the lowest level danger warning of "advice" only. Neighbouring Victoria state had 21 active fires, also at the lowest level.   

Around 11.7 million hectares of Australian wilderness have been razed by a series of huge wildfires since September that have also killed 33 people and more than a billion animals and destroyed thousands of homes. The horrific extended bushfire season has followed a three-year drought across the country.   

The heavy rainfall across NSW and Victoria state on Feb. 7 was something of a welcome surprise after the...

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