05 January 2020 22:32
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned that the devastating bushfires raging in the country might go on for months. Mr Morrison announced the creation of a recovery agency to help those who have lost homes and businesses in the fires. Conditions eased in Victoria and New South Wales on Sunday after temperatures and wind speeds dropped and some light rain fell. "We're in uncharted territory," said the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian. John Steele, 73, who was evacuated with his wife from their rural property north of Eden late on Saturday, told the AFP news agency: "Visibility was down to about 50 metres, if that, and we had lots of debris falling out of the sky and a lot of white ash.
Prime Minister Morrison on Saturday announced the largest military call-up in the country's recent history, mobilising up to 3,000 reservists to assist exhausted volunteer firefighters. Mr Morrison, who cancelled a planned visit to India because of the crisis, faced further condemnation on Sunday, after the head of the NSW Rural Fire Service revealed the service had only learned of the plan to call up reserve troops through the media. In an indication of the long road ahead, Mr Morrison warned that the fires might burn for many months, and said that the newly-created recovery agency would run for at least two years. The body will help bushfire-hit communities recover, media reports said, through work ranging from rebuilding infrastructure to providing mental health support. Queen Elizabeth on Sunday said she was "deeply saddened" by the fires, and thanked the emergency services "who put their own lives in danger" to help communities.
Tens of thousands of homes in NSW were left without power and thousands of people have been evacuated from coastal towns over the past week. NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro told ABC News the incident was a "massive disaster". Rain will bring some relief to fire-ravaged communities as the newly-established National Bushfire Recovery Agency begins working with state authorities and defence efforts. Fire crews across South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and NSW on Monday will race to build containment lines around dozens of dangerous blazes. The nationwide bushfire death toll rose to 23 on Sunday, when police confirmed a man had died while helping a friend battling a fire at Batlow, south of Canberra. Amid intense criticism for his government's response to bushfires across six states, Prime Minister Scott Morrison established the NBRA on Sunday. Hundreds of people are expected to find out their homes have been destroyed in fire-ravaged NSW as showers bring relief to firefighters. But the Rural Fire Service warns the rain won't put out the largest and most dangerous blazes before conditions worsen later in the week. At least sixty homes were destroyed in Saturday's blazes, taking to 576 the number lost since New Year's Eve. Some homes lost were in the Southern Highlands after a flank of a massive 400,000-hectare fireground stretching as far south as Batemans Bay jumped the Shoalhaven River. In the far south, Eden residents were able to return to their homes on Sunday as crews continued to battle the Border Fire which has scorched 271,000 hectares since igniting west of Victorian town Mallacoota. "It doesn't look as bad as Saturday or New Year's Eve but it's definitely something we'll be watching closely," Phillips said. Premier Gladys Berejiklian has acknowledged NSW is in "unchartered territory" and can't pretend the fires are something experienced before. "The weather activity we're seeing, the extent and spread of the fires, the speed at which they're going, the way in which they're attacking communities who've never ever seen fire before, is unprecedented," she said on Sunday. Early on Monday, more than 130 bushfires were burning across NSW, including more than 60 uncontained. The cool weather that has brought relief to Victoria will continue on Monday, with showers giving firefighters some respite before the heat returns later in the week. The fire danger rating forecast for East Gippsland and the north east of Victoria on Monday is low to moderate, with temperatures of under 20C forecast. Light rain fell across Victoria on Sunday, but authorities urged people to remain vigilant. The blaze, which has burnt more than 155,000 hectares inside a 300-kilometre perimeter, is still active in some areas with authorities concerned about deteriorating weather conditions later this week. Cooler weather and some rain across the fireground on Saturday and Sunday brought some relief but the Country Fire Service declared a total fire ban for Monday in the wake of a number of flare-ups and the prospect of rising temperatures from Wednesday. A bushfire advice remains in place for the western half of the island with the eastern edge of the fireground extending from the north to the south coast.