Australia wildfires: first rain arrives but officials warn blaze will 'take off' again

6 January 2020, 10:23 | Updated: 6 January 2020, 13:43

The fires are continuing across Australia
The fires are continuing across Australia. Picture: PA

Rain and cooler temperatures have arrived in Australia as the fires ravaging parts of the country have killed a total of 24 people so far.

Two more people were declared missing in New South Wales as firefighters prepare for further scorching temperatures and more flames later this week.

Crews attempted to complete strategic burns in preparation for the soaring temperatures forecast later in the week.

The wildfires have been raging since September, and have so far killed a total of 24 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes across an area the size of Croatia.

Currently, more than 135 are still burning across New South Wales, 70 of which are still not contained.

The developments came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a $2 billion Australian dollars funding boost to help the relief effort.

He also announced on Saturday he would dispatch 3,000 army, navy and air force reservists to help battle the fires. He also committed $20 million Australian dollars to lease firefighting aircraft from overseas.

It follows fierce criticism of Mr Morrison, as he was heckled when visiting those affected by the fires.

He has faced widespread criticism for taking a family holiday in Hawaii at the start of the wildfire crisis, as well as for his sometimes distracted approach as the disaster has escalated and his slowness in deploying resources.

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

The Rural Fire Service warned the rain would not put out the largest and most dangerous blazes before conditions deteriorated again this week.

The Department of Home Affairs, which is responsible for coordinating the country's response to disasters, told all non-critical staff to stay home because of the abysmal air quality.

"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," Shane Fitzsimmons, the Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, told reporters.

"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."

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said there was no room for complacency.

"Unfortunately, overnight, it's become apparent that we have two people unaccounted for in New South Wales," she said at a news conference.

Commissioner Fitzsimmons, who is leading the fight in NSW, said he learned of the deployment through media reports.

"It is fair to say it was disappointing and some surprise to hear about these things through public announcements in the middle of what was one of our worst days this season, with the second-highest number of concurrent emergency warning fires ever in the history of New South Wales," he said.

Mr Morrison was also forced to defend a video posted on social media on Saturday that promoted the deployment of reservists and the government's response to the wildfires.