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Cooler weather eases Australian fire conditions as PM returns from holiday

Click to play video: 'Australia’s prime minister under scrutiny as bushfires spread' Australia’s prime minister under scrutiny as bushfires spread
WATCH: Australia's prime minister under scrutiny as bushfires spread – Dec 22, 2019

Fire conditions eased on some of the major fronts burning across Australia on Sunday after a cool weather change, with firefighters trying to contain blazes before the expected return of hotter conditions at the end of the week.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited the Rural Fire Service (RFS) headquarters in Sydney, after returning on Saturday night from a holiday in Hawaii that drew sharp criticism as the wildfires crisis in his home state deepened.

After the deaths of two firefighters Thursday night, Morrison announced he would return home early, and on Sunday he acknowledged his holiday had caused anxiety.

Click to play video: 'Bushfires continue to rage in Australia while residents inspect damage near Sydney' Bushfires continue to rage in Australia while residents inspect damage near Sydney
Bushfires continue to rage in Australia while residents inspect damage near Sydney – Dec 22, 2019

READ MORE: More than 100 fires burning in Australia, forcing travel delays during busy holiday season

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Click to play video: 'Australia firefighters battle wall of flames in New South Wales' Australia firefighters battle wall of flames in New South Wales
Australia firefighters battle wall of flames in New South Wales – Dec 22, 2019

“I get it that people would have been upset to know that I was holidaying with my family while their families were under great stress,” Morrison said.

He also addressed his conservative Liberal-National coalition’s climate policies, which his government has been forced to defend following the severity of this year’s bushfires. Morrison said there was no argument that there is a link between climate change and weather events around the world.

Click to play video: 'Australian PM Scott Morrison meets fire volunteers' Australian PM Scott Morrison meets fire volunteers
Australian PM Scott Morrison meets fire volunteers – Dec 21, 2019

“But I’m sure people would equally acknowledge the direct connection to any single fire event is not a credible suggestion to make that link,” Morrison told journalists.

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Earlier this month, Australia drew criticism at a U.N. climate summit in Madrid for its climate-change policy of using old carbon credits to count towards future emissions targets.

Australia is one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita because of its reliance on coal-fired power plants. It has pledged to cut carbon emissions by 26% from 2005 levels by 2030, but critics accuse Morrison of paying lip service to that commitment.

Morrison recommitted to those policies, which he took to a general election in May, on Sunday.

Click to play video: '‘It was important that I return’: Australia’s Prime Minister apologizes for going on holiday as fire conditions ease' ‘It was important that I return’: Australia’s Prime Minister apologizes for going on holiday as fire conditions ease
‘It was important that I return’: Australia’s Prime Minister apologizes for going on holiday as fire conditions ease – Dec 21, 2019

READ MORE: BC Wildfire Service sends 6 more firefighters to help with deadly Australian blazes

Click to play video: '“Catastrophic” conditions as bushfires intensify in Australia' “Catastrophic” conditions as bushfires intensify in Australia
“Catastrophic” conditions as bushfires intensify in Australia – Dec 21, 2019

FORECAST FOR FIRES

The intensity of fires eased overnight in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia states, where fires had been burning out of control on Friday and Saturday as a combination of extreme heat and strong winds created “catastrophic” conditions in some areas.

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“We have still got an enormous amount of fire burning in the landscape,” NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said, adding that the spreading fires in the Blue Mountains area around 100 km (62 miles) west of Sydney would be a significant focus for fire crews.

“We’ve seen widespread damage and destruction being reported across a number of these fire grounds, and we’ve got impact assessment teams already deployed into the field this morning.”

Click to play video: 'High temperatures and winds create ‘awful’ conditions in battling Australia bushfires' High temperatures and winds create ‘awful’ conditions in battling Australia bushfires
High temperatures and winds create ‘awful’ conditions in battling Australia bushfires – Dec 21, 2019

READ MORE: Roads are melting during hottest heatwave in Australian history

More than 105 fires were still burning across NSW on Sunday, with 59 considered uncontained and one burning at an emergency level.

Dozens of properties were reported damaged or destroyed. A man who had been unaccounted for early Sunday after staying on Saturday to protect his property was later found safe.

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“Today is thankfully expected to be much cooler for large sections of NSW, which will be a welcome reprieve. However, many communities away from the coast will still experience significant heat,” the Bureau of Meteorology said in a tweet.

Click to play video: 'Firefighters in Australia search damaged, destroyed homes while battling bushfires' Firefighters in Australia search damaged, destroyed homes while battling bushfires
Firefighters in Australia search damaged, destroyed homes while battling bushfires – Dec 21, 2019

Conditions are expected to remain favorable over coming days and firefighters will work to contain some of the firefronts near communities, particularly in the Blue Mountains region to the west of Sydney.

Australia has been fighting wildfires for months as hot, dry conditions created an early start to the fire season, with blazes destroying more than 700 homes and nearly 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of bushland.

Smoke from bushfires prompted match officials to abandon Saturday’s Big Bash League cricket match in Canberra over what they called “dangerous and unreasonable playing conditions.”

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Click to play video: 'Firefighters in Australia contend with massive ‘fire tornado’' Firefighters in Australia contend with massive ‘fire tornado’
Firefighters in Australia contend with massive ‘fire tornado’ – Dec 19, 2019

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