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Tea Leaves

Australians confront 'trial by fire'

Unprecedented bush blazes disrupt politics and social norms Down Under

A firefighter works to contain a bush fire in the Australian town of Old Bar, in New South Wales, on Nov. 9.   © AAP Image/AP

The "Fires Near Me" app on my mobile phone pings frequently as the town where I live, set amid bushland about 150 km north of Sydney in the Hunter Valley, enters another day designated as one of "catastrophic fire risk."

The app, issued by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, is essential for the new normal of the Australian bush fire season, where months of drought and relentless hot, gusty winds create the perfect conditions for a potential firestorm. It alerts me to any nearby outbreaks and updates their status throughout the day.

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