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Pope prays for Australians, expresses solidarity amid fires

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis is asking for prayers for Australia as it copes with devastating fires and expressed his solidarity with the country's people.

Francis drew a round of applause after he made the unscripted appeal at the end of his general audience Wednesday.

In his comments, Francis said: “I'd like to ask for you all to pray to the Lord to help the (Australian) people at this difficult moment, with these powerful fires. I'm close to the Australian people.”

The fires, which have been blazing since September, have killed 26 people, destroyed 2,000 homes and scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland. They have been fueled by drought and the country's hottest and driest year on record.