'Deeply Saddened' Queen Elizabeth Sends Bushfire Condolence Message
Queen Elizabeth has thanked emergency services for their heroic bushfire response efforts, in a condolence message from the Australian head of state.
After Australia sweated through one of its hottest and most dangerous fire days ever on Saturday, with the true damage still to be counted, the Queen has praised the work of responders.
"I have been deeply saddened to hear of the continued bushfires and their devastating impact across many parts of Australia," the 93-year-old monarch said in a message, posted to the Royal Family's Twitter account on Sunday morning (AEDT).
The Royal Family's account said the letter had been sent to the Governor-General, as well as the state governors of NSW, Queensland and Victoria.
"My thanks go out to the emergency services, and those who put their own lives in danger to help communities in need," the message continued.
"Prince Philip and I send our thoughts and prayers to all Australians at this time."
The extent of the damage from Saturday is unclear, as of early Sunday, but heavy property losses are feared.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said he was receiving reports of "significant damage and destruction" on Saturday night after more than a dozen blazes reached an emergency warning alert level throughout the day.
He believed property losses could run into the dozens.
"Some areas alone are reporting at least 15 properties alight in some locations," Fitzsimmons told ABC TV.
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The letter was shared as a portrait of the Queen with her next three heirs to the throne was released, to mark the start of the new decade.
The reigning monarch posed in the formal picture with son Prince Charles, grandson Prince William and great-grandson Prince George.
The portrait of the four was taken at London's Buckingham Palace's throne room a week before Christmas.
The palace released the portrait on Saturday night.
Charles posed with an arm around George's shoulder as the two stood next to the Queen on a red-carpeted step. William, the Duke of Cambridge, was behind the monarch on her other side.
It's only the second time Buckingham Palace has issued a portrait of the queen and her three heirs together.
The first, taken by the same photographer, was released in 2016 to mark Elizabeth's 90th birthday and used on commemorative stamps.