Sunday 26 January 2020

Exhausted firefighters in Australia get brief respite but temperatures set to rise again

Criticised: PM Scott Morrison has been ‘to slow to respond’
Criticised: PM Scott Morrison has been ‘to slow to respond’

Kristen Gelineau

Bolstered by cooler weather and desperately needed rain, exhausted firefighters in Australia raced to shore up defences against deadly wildfires before the blazes flare again within days when scorching temperatures are expected to return.

The first hints of the financial toll from the disaster began to emerge yesterday, when the Insurance Council of Australia said the estimated damage bill had doubled in two days, with insurance claims reaching A$700m (€431m).

That estimate comes a day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was committing an extra A$2bn (€1.23bn) toward the recovery effort in addition to the tens of millions of dollars already promised.

The funding announcement came amid fierce criticism from many Australians who say Mr Morrison has been too slow to respond to the crisis. He has also faced a backlash for downplaying the need for his government to address climate change, which experts say helps supercharge the fires.

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The home of Justin Kam and Helena Wong barely stands after a fire destroyed the house at Balmoral, Australia, (Rick Rycroft/AP)
The home of Justin Kam and Helena Wong barely stands after a fire destroyed the house at Balmoral, Australia, (Rick Rycroft/AP)

The blazes, 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. So far, the blazes have killed 25 people and destroyed 2,000 homes.

Three people in New South Wales who were reported missing early yesterday were later found, police said.

Across New South Wales, 130 fires were still burning yesterday, around 50 of which were uncontrolled.

The cooler, rainier weather was providing thousands of weary firefighters a "psychological and emotional" reprieve as they scrambled to strengthen containment lines around fires before temperatures rise again, said the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tours one of the areas devastated by the wildfires (James Ross/AP)
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tours one of the areas devastated by the wildfires (James Ross/AP)
Blaze: A military helicopter flies above a burning woodchip mill in Eden, New South Wales. Photo: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty
Blaze: A military helicopter flies above a burning woodchip mill in Eden, New South Wales. Photo: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty
People boarding a helicopter as the fire-ravaged community of Mallacoota is evacuated (Corporal Nicole Dorrett/ADF via AP)
People boarding a helicopter as the fire-ravaged community of Mallacoota is evacuated (Corporal Nicole Dorrett/ADF via AP)
Fire-damaged trees are cleared in Bairnsdale, Victoria (Department of Defence/Private (P) Michael Currie via AP)
Fire-damaged trees are cleared in Bairnsdale, Victoria (Department of Defence/Private (P) Michael Currie via AP)
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is confronted by angry residents as he visited a wildfire-ravaged Cobargo, NSW, at the height of the fires (ABC TV/AP)
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is confronted by angry residents as he visited a wildfire-ravaged Cobargo, NSW, at the height of the fires (ABC TV/AP)

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