“The smiles are slowly getting bigger.”

By Alison Fox
Updated March 03, 2020
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After months of battling deadly fires that swept through large swaths of Australia, the country’s state of New South Wales is officially free from wildfires, according to its fire service. 

The state, which includes the city of Sydney, is bushfire-free for the first time since July 2019 — or more than 240 days — the NSW Rural Fire Service announced on Twitter. 

“This time the rain should fall where they need it most,” the NSW Rural Fire Service wrote alongside a weather map, adding: “The smiles are slowly getting bigger.”

The fires have plagued several areas of Australia, but have been particularly devastating in New South Wales. In December, the smoke was so bad in Sydney that the air quality measured 11 times the "hazardous" level, CNN noted.

New growth is seen in bushland on February 29, 2020 in Port Macquarie, Australia. An estimated 4.9 million hectares of bushland was burned across New South Wales during the nationwide fire crisis.
Nathan Edwards / Getty

Rob Rogers, the NSW Rural Fire Service’s deputy commissioner, told the network it has been "a truly devastating fire season for both firefighters and residents, who've suffered through so much this season."

This fire season has also been deadly, killing both people and countless animals, as well as destroying thousands of homes. While the flames burned uncontrollably for months, signs of hope started to emerge last month when they were finally brought under control.  

While the threat from the fires is passing, recovery now takes center stage. 

One of the best ways to support a country after a disaster is to visit and much of Australia remains unaffected, including the popular destinations of Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. The country has also doubled its working holiday visa rule to 12 months for visitors who want to help with recovery efforts like demolition and land clearing.

And if you can’t go, you can donate to charities working to help people and animals affected by the fires, like the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, which has treated injured animals.