Australia fires: Firefighters prepare defences as temperatures set to rise again

7 January 2020, 08:42

Scott Morrison has committed more money to fighting the fires
Scott Morrison has committed more money to fighting the fires. Picture: PA

The Australian government has said it will pay "whatever it takes" to help tackle the deadly wildfires ravaging the country, as firefighters prepare for scorching conditions later this week.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was pledging an extra $2 billion Australian dollars to help the recovery efforts of firefighters.

This would be alongside the tens of millions of dollars that have already been promised by the government.

“The fires are still burning. And they’ll be burning for months to come,” Morrison said.

"And so that’s why I outlined today that this is an initial, an additional, investment of $2 billion.

"If more is needed and the cost is higher, then more will be provided.”

His announcement comes as the death toll from the fires rose to at least 25 and 2,000 homes have been destroyed by the blaze.

A body was discovered yesterday in New South Wales, believed to be that of a 71-year-old man last seen on New Year's Eve.

Despite rain and cooler temperatures bringing some relief on Monday, scorching temperatures are again predicted for the end of the week.

Officials have warned that the rain will not put out the largest and most dangerous blazes before conditions deteriorate again.

"With the more benign weather conditions, it presents some wonderful relief for everybody, the firefighters, the emergency services personnel, but also the communities affected by these fires," said Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

“But it also presents some real challenges when it comes to implementing tactical and strategic back-burns and other techniques to try and bring these fires under control.”

Scott Morrison has been fiercely criticised for his response to the fires
Scott Morrison has been fiercely criticised for his response to the fires. Picture: PA

The first hints of the financial toll from the disaster began to emerge on Tuesday.

The Insurance Council of Australia said the estimated damage bill had doubled in two days, with insurance claims reaching $700 million ($485 million).

Morrison's funding announcement came amid fierce criticism from many Australians who say he has been too slow to respond to the crisis.

He has also faced backlash for downplaying the need for his government to address climate change, which experts say helps supercharge the blazes.

The fires, fuelled by drought and the country's hottest and driest year on record, have been raging since September- months earlier than is typical for Australia's annual wildfire season.

In New South Wales (NSW), 130 fires were still burning on Tuesday, around 50 of which were uncontrolled.

Victoria state Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said on Monday at least 200 millimeters (8 inches) of rain would need to fall in a short time to snuff out the fires - around 20 times what has fallen across the region in the past day.

Officials also warned that Australia's wildfire season - which generally lasts through March - was nowhere near its end.

The rain was also complicating firefighters' attempts to strategically backburn certain areas and was making the ground slippery for fire trucks.