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

6 January 2020, 09:20

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

By Maddie Goodfellow

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.

Latest World News

See more Latest World News

Smoke rises from building

Russian missiles target Kyiv as troops consolidate gains in the east

Kyiv has been hit by a series of missile strikes on Sunday

Kyiv struck by Russian rocket attacks for first time in three weeks

Olaf Scholz and Joe Biden

Biden praises unity of alliance opposing Russian invasion of Ukraine

The memorial service was held in Oslo Cathedral

Oslo shooting victims remembered in memorial service

USS Samuel B Roberts

US destroyer sunk in 1944 becomes deepest shipwreck discovered

Gas hob

French urged to immediately reduce fuel and energy use

Climate activists in rally

Climate club: How Germany hopes to keep G7 leaders’ focus on the environment

The incident happened in the town of East London in Eastern Cape

At least 20 young people found dead in South African nightclub

Pro-choice supporters

Abortion rights supporters and opponents map next move

Migrants at Spanish border

Death toll from ‘stampede’ at Spanish border in Morocco climbs to 23

A boy holds his pet dog as his family evacuated from the war-hit area gets on an evacuation train in Pokrovsk, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, June 25, 2022

Russia edges closer to swallowing up Ukraine’s last remaining Luhansk stronghold

US Rep Mary Miller, of Illinois, speaks as former President Donald Trump stands behind her on stage at a rally at the Adams County Fairgrounds in Mendon on Saturday

Congresswoman calls removal of abortion rights a ‘victory for white life’

Russia Ukraine War

Russia pushes to block second city in eastern Ukraine

President Joe Biden waves to the media as he walks to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland

Biden arrives in Europe ahead of G7 and Nato summits

Chicago police at the scene where a five-month-old girl was shot and killed in the South Shore neighbourhood of Chicago

Five-month-old girl shot dead in car in Chicago

Tourists fill plastic bottles with water from a public fountain at the Sforzesco Castle in Milan, Italy

Milan to turn off fountains as drought hits Italy