There were some faint signs that a re­prieve may be on the way, as trop­i­cal cy­clone Blake hits north­west coast

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Sydney, Aus­tralia - Fire­fight­ers raced to con­tain mas­sive bush­fires in south­east­ern Aus­tralia on Tues­day, tak­ing ad­van­tage of a brief drop in tem­per­a­tures and some much-needed rain­fall be­fore an­other heat­wave strikes later this week.

Ex­hausted vol­un­teers cleared ground veg­e­ta­tion and car­ried out con­trolled burns be­fore tem­per­a­tures and winds were ex­pected to pick up again by Fri­day.

“It re­ally is about shoring up pro­tec­tion to limit the dam­age po­ten­tial and the out­break of the fires over the com­ing days,” said New South Wales Ru­ral Fire Ser­vice com­mis­sioner Shane Fitzsim­mons.

He de­scribed cur­rent con­di­tions as ‘much more favourable’ but warned ‘we are ex­pect­ing hot­ter weather to re­turn later in the week’.

Dozens of vast blazes con­tinue to burn out of con­trol across the east of the coun­try and there are grow­ing fears that two fires in New South Wales and Vic­to­ria could con­nect to form an­other un­con­trol­lable megablaze.

Rain­fall on Mon­day of­fered mod­est re­lief, but it was not heavy enough in most ar­eas to ex­tin­guish the fires, and in some places it ham­pered fire­fight­ers’ prepa­ra­tions by mak­ing back­burn­ing more dif­fi­cult.

Twenty-five peo­ple have died since the start of the dis­as­ter in Septem­ber, more than 1,800 homes have been de­stroyed, and some 80,000sqkm has burned, an area the size of Ire­land or South Carolina.

Smoke from the fires has been spot­ted more than 12,000km away in Chile and Ar­gentina, weather author­i­ties in the South

Amer­i­can coun­tries said.

The cost of the dis­as­ter is still not clear, but the In­sur­ance Coun­cil of Aus­tralia said claims worth A$700mn (US$485mn) had al­ready been filed and the fig­ure was ex­pected to climb sig­nif­i­cantly.

The gov­ern­ment has ear­marked an ini­tial A$2bn for a na­tional re­cov­ery fund to help dev­as­tated com­mu­ni­ties.

The hu­man toll was again laid bare on Tues­day, as fire­fight­ers held a me­mo­rial in Sydney for 36 year old col­league An­drew O’Dwyer who died bat­tling blazes in late De­cem­ber.

Vol­un­teers in bright or­ange fire suits lined the road as his cortege passed - with the cof­fin draped in a Ru­ral Fire Ser­vice flag.

Con­di­tions in the next week are not ex­pected to match the worst days of the cri­sis, but Fitzsim­mons told pub­lic broad­caster ABC it was im­por­tant not to ‘get lulled into a false sense of se­cu­rity’.

Many of the blazes are too big to be put out, so only sus­tained rain­fall would end the cri­sis.

There were some faint signs on Tues­day that a re­prieve may be on the way, as trop­i­cal cy­clone Blake brought heavy rain to the north­west­ern coast.

Blake is not ex­pected to have an im­pact on the bush­fires rag­ing in other parts of the mas­sive coun­try, but could sig­nal a change in hot and dry con­di­tions that have fu­elled the fires.

“It was nice to see a cy­clone form­ing. I shouldn’t say that - hope­fully no dam­age - but it was nice to see a cy­clone form­ing up the top end of (Western Aus­tralia),” said Fitzsim­mons.

HMAS Ade­laide

HMAS Ade­laide

(AFP)

Royal Aus­tralian Navy MH-60R Sea­hawk ‘Romeo’ he­li­copters de­part­ing (L01) as part of bush­fire re­lief op­er­a­tions, off the coast in Eden, in New South Wales on Sun­day

(AFP)

A fire rises in the dis­tance as could be seen from the Royal Aus­tralian Navy’s ship on Mon­day

(AFP)

A charred ve­hi­cle on Quin­lans street in Quaama in New South Wales state on Mon­day

(AFP)

A small fire is seen on a burnt tree af­ter an overnight bush­fire in Quaama in New South Wales state on Mon­day

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