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.
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.”
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.