It was a wildlife haven, a tourist magnet and an agricultural center — before half of it burned.

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Simon Kelly, center, a farmer on Kangaroo Island in Australia, lost most of his 9,000 sheep.

KANGAROO ISLAND, Australia — Kangaroo Island is Australia in miniature.

It is a wildlife haven, with its own varieties of kangaroos, echidnas (a spiny anteater) and cockatoos, as well as a koala population seen as insurance should disaster strike the species on the mainland. It is a tourism magnet, with luxury cliff-top lodges and beaches studded with sea lions. …

More than 16 million acres have gone up in flames. And it has happened in populated areas, unlike most of the world’s other blazes of this scale.

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A man tried to protect his property in Lake Conjola, New South Wales, on New Year’s Eve. Credit: Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

SYDNEY, Australia — In late October, lightning struck brittle earth on Gospers Mountain in New South Wales. The remains of trees bone dry from consecutive winters with little to no rain were ignited, and the fire quickly spread.

Three months later, it is still burning.

The Gospers Mountain fire, which became Australia’s largest “megablaze” as it grew to link several separate fires, offers a sense of the scale of the country’s most disastrous fire season ever. The blaze has burned two million acres, enveloping hinterland and wine country, and prompted a special mission to save prehistoric trees so rare that their exact location is kept secret. …

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It was the latest wild turn in this most extreme of Australian summers.

Large hailstones have rained down on Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra over the past two days, destroying vehicles, punching holes in roofs and blanketing the lawn in front of Parliament.

Suddenly, a season of suffocating heat, bone-dry skies and voracious fires has given way in southeastern Australia to widespread thunderstorms. Skies once darkened by smoke are now brooding with clouds and rain — at least for a few days.

Hailstones were as large as baseballs. Wind gusts topped 70 miles per hour. In some areas, an inch of rain fell in just 30 minutes. A few places experienced flash flooding. …

In an interview with the local media, Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed regret but reiterated that economic concerns would still play a key role in climate policies.

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Firefighters refilling their water tanks near a blaze in New South Wales, Australia. Credit: Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

SYDNEY, Australia — Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia said on Sunday that he would call for a high-level government inquiry into the response to the country’s devastating bushfires. But he did not signal a significant shift in policies to curb carbon emissions, as many had hoped.

The suggested inquiry, which Mr. Morrison proposed during a televised interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, came on the heels of news that a firefighter had died overnight in the state of Victoria, the site of some of the worst of the fires that have swept parts of Australia since October. At least 28 people have been killed in the fires. …

The country is venting frustration with Prime Minister Scott Morrison over what many view as a nonchalant response to the disastrous blazes and his unwavering dismissal of climate change.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday in Sarsfield, Australia, a town hit by bush fires. Credit: Pool photo by James Ross

HASTINGS, Australia — The posters have popped up on streets around Australia, showing the prime minister looking very tropical: floral wreath on his head, ocean-blue shirt open at the collar.

“MISSING,” they blared. “Your country is on fire.”

The immediate reference was clear. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has been widely castigated for taking a vacation to Hawaii last month, and trying to keep it quiet, while Australia was in the early clutches of one of its most devastating fire seasons ever. …

With more than a month still to go in the fire season, the government announced a large-scale use of military assets, a deployment not seen since World War II.

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Credit: Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

HASTINGS, Australia — The evacuees walked down the gangway of the giant naval vessel to the dock, each carrying just a few items of luggage. Some held infants and others their dogs, whose legs were still shaky from the 20-hour voyage down the coast of Australia. They were weary, and their clothes smelled of smoke, but the terrible infernos were finally behind them.

Four days after a bush fire ravaged the remote coastal town of Mallacoota, forcing people to shelter on the beach under blood-red skies, more than 1,000 stranded residents and vacationers arrived on Saturday in Hastings, a town near Melbourne. …

Officials across three states braced for what they feared could be the worst day yet of Australia’s disastrous fire season.

Here’s what you need to know:

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Jill Rose cooled off her alpacas in Tomerong, in the Australian state of New South Wales, as fire approached on Saturday. Credit: Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Hundreds of people who had spent days trapped by fires along a beach in the town of Mallacoota reached safety more than 300 miles away on Saturday morning, after a 20-hour trip on a naval ship.

Others had stayed behind, even as Australian officials across three states urged anyone who could leave to do so. By Saturday, numerous towns along Australia’s eastern and southeastern coasts were ringed by fire. …

The authorities warned of potentially worse conditions this weekend, but some residents wanted to protect their homes, while others worried about more danger if they fled.

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Firefighters in Lake Conjola, New South Wales, Australia, on Tuesday.

NOWRA, Australia — The smoke is still smoldering from the wildfires that ravaged the small seaside town of Broulee, Australia, on New Year’s Eve, when sand dunes erupted into flames and entire neighborhoods were decimated.

Water and food is running low. Shops are taking only cash, and radio is the main source of information. The fires could intensify this weekend, as strong winds and high temperatures threaten to create even more dire conditions in the town and more than a dozen others. …

On Friday, officials in the state of New South Wales drastically expanded their estimate of the amount of land at risk.

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As fires rage in Australia, this upcoming weekend is likely to be the most dangerous yet. The toll so far includes 18 deaths, more than 1,000 homes destroyed and thousands of animals killed. Credit: Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

SYDNEY, Australia — Already besieged by one of the worst wildfire seasons in Australian history, evacuees and those staying put on Friday braced for conditions to grow even more dire.

Across Australia’s southeast, supermarket shelves emptied, gas stations closed and roads became clogged with traffic as skies turned a hellish red or a smoke-choked white. Firefighters were overwhelmed by more than 100 raging blazes and families were forced to make perilous stay-or-go decisions. …

Calling for evacuations along the southeastern coast, officials said the next few days would be among the worst yet in an already catastrophic fire season.

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Australia’s fire season, already record breaking, is expected to get worse. Credit: DELWP, via Associated Press

INVERLOCH, Australia — They fled from looming firestorms that threatened to cut off their escape, only to join a slog alongside the masses of others who crowded the roads. Thousands more waited for rescue by sea.

Across the scorched southeast, frightened Australians — taking a few cherished things, abandoning their homes and vacation rentals, and braving smoke that discolored the skies — struggled Thursday to evacuate as wildfires turned the countryside into charcoal wasteland. …

Jamie Tarabay

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