Rain has brought some relief to fire-ravaged Australia but could actually hamper efforts to stamp out the raging bushfires ahead of temperatures soaring again this week.
Monday’s rains down the east coast from Sydney to Melbourne cooled temperatures but experts said it would make lighting strategic fires more difficult with the heat returning on Thursday.
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.
It comes as experts described how two colossal infernos raging in Victoria and New South Wales could meet to form a ‘mega blaze.’
On Kangaroo Island, a refuge off the coast of South Australia for some of the country’s most endangered creatures, teams had arrived to help euthanize livestock and wild animals injured in the blazes.
Hundreds of millions of animals are believed to have died already in the fires across the country.
Today Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was committing an extra 2 billion Australian dollars (£1 billion) toward the recovery effort in addition to the tens of millions of dollars that have already been promised.
A dead kangaroo is seen on Kangaroo Island after the fires which have burned for several days, Monday, January 6, 2020. A convoy of Army vehicles, transporting up to 100 Army Reservists and self-sustainment supplies, have arrived on Kangaroo Island as part of Operation Bushfire Assist at the request of the South Australian Government.
A long exposure picture shows a car commuting on a road as the sky turns red from smoke of the Snowy Valley bushfire on the outskirts of Cooma on Saturday. Up to 3,000 military reservists were called up to tackle Australia’s relentless bushfire crisis over the weekend, as tens of thousands of residents fled their homes amid catastrophic conditions.
A woodchip mill burnt by bushfires is seen as smoke rises in Eden in Australia’s New South Wales state on January 6, 2020. – Reserve troops were deployed to fire-ravaged regions across three Australian states on Monday after a torrid weekend that turned swathes of land into smouldering, blackened hellscapes
Royal Australian Navy MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’ helicopters departing HMAS Adelaide (L01) as part of bushfire relief operations on Sunday
This week: Cool conditions will give way to hot weather hitting the low 40s (purple) on Friday – with the heatwave increasing fire danger in the central west of New South Wales
‘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.’
Today Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was committing an extra 2 billion Australian dollars (£1 million) toward the recovery effort in addition to the tens of millions of dollars that have already been promised
Morrison’s announcement of the funds, which will go toward rebuilding towns and infrastructure destroyed by the fires, came as authorities said two more people were missing in remote parts of New South Wales.
Nationwide, at least 24 people have been killed and 2,000 homes destroyed by the blazes, which have so far scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland.
Fire crews told reporters of the difficulties Monday’s rain would bring Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, said: ‘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.
He added: ‘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.’
More than 135 fires were still burning across New South Wales, including almost 70 that were not contained. Officials have warned that the rain won’t put out the largest and most dangerous blazes before conditions deteriorate again.
Victoria state Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said at least 200 millimeters (8 inches) of rain would need to fall over a short period of time in order to snuff out the fires – around 20 times what has fallen across the region in the past day.
A military helicopter flies above a burning woodchip mill in Eden, in Australia’s New South Wales state on Monday – some rainfall in New South Wales and neighbouring Victoria state brought milder conditions, but some communities were still under threat from out-of-control blazes, particularly in and around the town of Eden in New South Wales
Dead cattle are seen on Kangaroo Island on Monday. A refuge off the coast of South Australia for some of the country’s most endangered creatures, teams had arrived to help euthanize livestock and wild animals injured in the blazes. Hundreds of millions of animals are believed to have died already in the fires across the country.
A dead wallaby pictured in the Wingello State Forest on January 06, 2020 in Wingello, Australia. Cooler conditions and light rain has provided some relief for firefighters in NSW who continue to battle bushfires across the state. 14 people have now died in the fires in NSW, Victoria and South Australia since New Year’s Eve
An RFS Crew attempts to put out a smoldering pile of railway sleepers. The sleepers measured over 600 degrees on a thermal temperature gauge 2 days after the fire front had passed through on Monday
A horse grazes in front of a burnt house after an overnight bushfire in Cobargo in Australia’s New South Wales state on Monday
And officials warned that the country’s wildfire season – which generally lasts through March – was nowhere near its end.
‘No one can be complacent. We’ve got big fire danger coming our way toward the end of this week,’ Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne. ‘We are by no means out of this. And the next few days, and indeed the next few months, are going to be challenging.’
Australia’s capital, Canberra, had the worst air quality of any major city in the world on Monday. 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 thick smoke choking the city.
The prime minister said the military was attempting to get food, fuel and water to burned-out communities, and engineers were working to reopen roads and resupply evacuation centers.
A Royal Australian Navy MRH-90 helicopter crew member looks out over fires burning near Cann River, Australia. The wildfires have so far scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland
An RFS Crew attempts to put out a smoldering pile of railway sleepers. Army Reserve forces and other specialist capabilities have been called in to help with firefighting efforts across Australia, along with extra Defence ships and helicopters
A smoldering log is pictured in the Wingello State Forest on Monday. Monday’s rains down the east coast from Sydney to Melbourne cooled temperatures but experts say this will make lighting strategic fires more difficult with the heat returning on Thursday.
The burnt out remains sits on a plot of land after a bushfire went thought the area, in Wingello, New South Wales on Monday
Heavy smoke, meanwhile, was hampering the navy’s efforts to airlift people out of Mallacoota, a coastal town in Victoria cut off for days by fires that forced as many as 4,000 residents and tourists to shelter on beaches over the weekend.
Around 300 people were still waiting to be evacuated on Monday.
The prime minister’s announcement of relief funds comes as he finds himself under siege for what many Australians have viewed as his lax response to the crisis.
On Saturday, he announced he would dispatch 3,000 army, navy and air force reservists to help battle the fires and committed 20 million Australian dollars ($14 million) to lease firefighting aircraft from overseas.
But the moves did little to tamp down the criticism that he had been slow to act, even as he has downplayed the need for his government to address climate change, which experts say helps supercharge the blazes.
Ash from bushfires washes up on a beach in Merimbula, in Australia’s New South Wales state on Sunday. Australians on January 5 counted the cost from a day of catastrophic bushfires that caused ‘extensive damage’ across swathes of the country and took the death toll from the long-running crisis to 24.
Residents commute on a road through thick smoke from bushfires in Bemboka, in Australia’s New South Wales state on Sunday
Smoke raises to the sky as a woodchip mill burns in Eden, in Australia’s New South Wales on Monday
Wildfires are common during the southern hemisphere summer, and Australians generally take a pragmatic view of them.
But this year’s fires arrived unusually early, fed by drought and the country’s hottest and driest year on record.
Scientists say there’s no doubt man-made global warming has played a major role in feeding the fires, along with factors like very dry brush and trees and strong winds.
Environmental group Greenpeace said the relief funds announced by Morrison were ‘a drop in the ocean,’ given the widespread devastation from the fires.
‘Every single cent of that money should be contributed by the coal, gas and oil companies whose carbon pollution has caused the climate crisis that has created these extreme fire conditions, right across the country,’ Greenpeace Australia Pacific Head of Campaigns Jamie Hanson said in a statement.
‘Slugging everyday taxpayers with the bill for this just adds insult to injury. These big polluters have become rich by trashing our climate and it’s time that they started coughing up for the repair bill.’