Scorched Australia readies for renewed bushfire threat

Fires have swept through 8 million hectares and some blazes are so large only sustained rainfall will extinguish them.

    Fires have swept through some 8 million hectares of land since they started earlier than usual in September [Tracey Nearmy/Reuters]
    Fires have swept through some 8 million hectares of land since they started earlier than usual in September [Tracey Nearmy/Reuters]

    Firefighters in Australia took advantage of cooler weather on Tuesday to try and strengthen containment lines about almost 200 fires burning in the country's southeast, as two more people were reported missing.

    Fires that started in September have swept through more than 8 million hectares (19.8 million acres) of land, an area nearly the size of Austria, killing 25 people and destroying or damaging thousands of homes across the country's southeast.

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    Smoke from the fires has been spotted more than 12,000 kilometres (7,400 miles) away in Chile and Argentina, weather authorities in the South American countries said.

    On Tuesday, two men were reported missing in New South Wales. Police did not reveal the identities of the men but said one was a 70-year old male.

    Recovery fund

    The Insurance Council of Australia increased its estimate for damages claims from the fires to more than 700 million Australian dollars ($485.59m) on Tuesday, with claims expected to rise significantly as people are able to return to areas damaged by the fires.

    Thousands of people have been left homeless, while many in rural towns have spent days without electricity, telecommunications and, in some cases, drinking water. Military-coordinated rescue and support efforts are continuing.

    Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been criticised for his handling of the crisis, on Monday pledged 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.4m) for a newly created National Bushfire Recovery Agency to help devastated communities.

    Australia fires
    Black ash and fire debris is washed up on Boydtown Beach and the banks of the Nullica River in Eden, Australia [Tracey Nearmy/Reuters]

    On the ground, firefighters were working to get as much control over the huge blazes as possible before the expected return of high temperatures and strong winds later this week.

    Rain on Monday offered modest relief, but it was not heavy enough to extinguish the fires, and in some places, it hampered firefighters' preparations by making back-burning more difficult.

    "They are trying to secure fire lines where they can to try and minimise where these fires will burn again when conditions do warm up," Rob Rogers, NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Deputy Commissioner told reporters in a morning briefing. 

    Many of the fires have become so big only sustained rainfall will put them out.

    Australia: In the Line of Fire

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    Australia: In the Line of Fire

    SOURCE: News agencies