Aussie fire­fight­ing crews get help

Wild­fires ef­fort turns from de­fense to of­fense for the first time in weeks thanks to a break in the weather.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Perry

BO­DALLA, Aus­tralia — Crews bat­tling Aus­tralia’s wild­fires said Sun­day that they have been able to turn from de­fense to of­fense for the first time in weeks thanks to a break in the weather.

Dale McLean, who is help­ing man­age the re­sponse to a fire near the town of Bo­dalla in New South Wales state, was part of team that was bull­doz­ing down small trees and burn­ing scrub ahead of the fire’s pro­jected path to try to stop it from reach­ing a ma­jor high­way by starv­ing it of fuel.

“This fire took a ma­jor run about seven or eight days ago, and with the weather chang­ing now, the weather set­tling down, the fire has set­tled down,” he said. “The fire be­hav­ior has changed. So we’re able to get in front of the fire now, get on the of­fen­sive.”

The weather is ex­pected to re­main be­nign for the next week, al­though any de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in con­di­tions af­ter that could see the wild­fires flare up again.

Also on Sun­day, news came that an­other fire­fighter had been killed. Bill Slade — one of the few pro­fes­sion­als among mainly vol­un­teer bri­gades bat­tling blazes across south­east Aus­tralia — died af­ter be­ing hit by a fall­ing tree on Satur­day near Omeo in east­ern Vic­to­ria state, For­est Fire Man­age­ment Vic­to­ria Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Chris Hard­man said.

The 60-year-old mar­ried fa­ther of two was com­mended in Novem­ber for 40 years of ser­vice with the forestry agency.

The tragedy brings the death toll to at least 27 in a cri­sis that has de­stroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched an area larger than the state of In­di­ana since Septem­ber. Four of the ca­su­al­ties have been fire­fight­ers.

The cri­sis has brought ac­cu­sa­tions that Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son’s con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment needs to take more ac­tion to counter cli­mate change, which ex­perts say has wors­ened the blazes. Thou­sands of pro­test­ers ral­lied Fri­day in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne, call­ing for Mor­ri­son to be fired and for Aus­tralia to take tougher ac­tion on global warm­ing.

The prime min­is­ter said Sun­day that his gov­ern­ment was build­ing re­silience to the fire dan­ger posed by cli­mate change. He said the gov­ern­ment was de­vel­op­ing a na­tional dis­as­ter risk re­duc­tion frame­work within the Depart­ment of Home Af­fairs that will deal with wild­fires, cy­clones, floods and drought.

“This is a longer-term risk frame­work model which deals with one of the big is­sues in re­sponse to the cli­mate chang­ing,” Mor­ri­son said.

Mor­ri­son also an­nounced that $52 mil­lion would be spent on pro­vid­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­sel­ing for fire­fight­ers and fireaf­fected com­mu­ni­ties as part of a pre­vi­ously an­nounced $1.4 bil­lion re­cov­ery fund.

“There has been a deep scar in the land­scape that has been left right across our coun­try,” Mor­ri­son said. “But I am also very mind­ful, as is the gov­ern­ment, of the very real scars that will be there for quite a pe­riod of time to come for those who’ve been ex­posed to the trauma of th­ese bush fires.”

RICK RYCROFT/AP

A fire­fighter helps build a con­tain­ment line at a fire on Sun­day near Bo­dalla, Aus­tralia. Crews bat­tling fires across the coun­try are be­ing helped by cooler weather.

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