Bushfire-stricken east welcomes drenching rain

Intense thunderstorms with heavy rains have dampened bushfires on Australia's east coast, bringing relief to farmers in three states battling a drought which has left much of the country tinder dry.

Australia, famous for its pristine beaches and wildlife, has been fighting bushfires since September last year, with fires killing 29 people and millions of animals, and destroying more than 2500 homes while razing an area roughly a third the size of Germany.

Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland - three of the most affected states - saw heavy downpours of rain from Thursday, which is forecast to continue throughout the weekend.

Fire services said that while the rain will not extinguish all the blazes, it will help greatly to contain them.

"Our fingers are crossed that this continues over the coming days," New South Wales fire services tweeted on Friday.

While the wet weather brings relief to fire crews and drought-hit farmers, it also comes with dangers, such as flash flooding and falling trees, many structurally destroyed by the intense bushfires.

The storms have helped disperse smoke in Melbourne, which sheathed the city disrupted the Australian Open qualifying tennis matches and other sporting competitions, but winds are set to bring back unhealthy air over the weekend.

The smoke haze that has plagued Australia's major cities for weeks has been tracked by NASA circumnavigating the globe and the space agency satellites showed on Thursday there was also a large concentration of lower smoke over the Pacific Ocean.

New South Wales was set to receive some of its best rain in months. Sydney was expected on Friday to receive 10-25mm, while up to 50mm are forecast for parts of the state along with thunderstorms.

The Northern Tablelands, Northern Slopes, Northern Rivers, Mid North Coast and Hunter were all expected to get significant downpours.

Falls of up to 50mm would be the state's most significant rainfall since September last year, with rain expected to continue falling into the weekend.

The NSW SES on Friday morning said it had responded to more than 250 calls for help since Wednesday afternoon, mostly for leaky roofs.

The NSW Rural Fire Service has welcomed the rain on large firegrounds but warned it wasn't the end of the crisis.

"It won't put all these fires out but certainly it's slowed them right down and I think it's given a significant morale boost," RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers told the Seven Network.

"We've had rainfall on most fires now - at least 10mm - and particularly in the south in areas where it's harder to get to, in the Kosciuszko ranges. They're the ones we're quite happy there's been some rainfall."

On Friday there were 82 fires burning across New South Wales including 30 uncontained, and several fires in Victoria, according to authorities.

However, Australia would have to wait until March for rains heavy enough to bring sustained relief from the dry weather, the country's weather bureau advised.

- Reuters and AAP

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