Australian firefighter dies battling blazes, raising death toll to 28

 Australian firefighter dies battling blazes, raising death toll to 28

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A firefighter died while on duty on Saturday in Australia's state of Victoria, raising the toll from this season's devastating bushfires to 28 deaths as the government deploys mental health services to aid those in affected areas.

"It is with great sadness that we confirm that a ... firefighter from Parks Victoria has been involved in an incident while working on a fire in the Omeo area resulting in a fatality," Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman said in a statement.

For a graphic illustrating the size of Australia's bushfires, click: https://tmsnrt.rs/2tE7FwD​​​​​​​

Since October, thousands of Australians have been subjected to repeat evacuations as huge and unpredictable fires scorched more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres), an area roughly the size of South Korea.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been heavily criticised by the opposition and environmental groups for his handling of the bushfires and his stance on climate change, was set to address the crisis on Sunday morning on ABC News television.

Meanwhile, his office released a statement saying that more mental health services will be provided for those affected by the fires.

"We need to ensure the trauma and mental health needs of our people are supported in a way like we never have before," Morrison was cited as saying.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Updated Date: Jan 12, 2020 07:13:07 IST