Australian Fires Still Unchecked, Losses Rise

December 31, 2001

The brush fires raging near Sydney, Australia’s largest city, (See IJ Website, Dec. 27) continued to burn out of control over the weekend, as milder weather, which was helping the 15,000 firefighters control the flames, gave way to scorching winds and temperatures rose to over 100°F.

Over 60 percent of Royal National Park, the world’s second oldest national park after Yellowstone, located south of the city, has been burned over. A number of new fires erupted on Sunday, some caused by lightning strikes, but at least five have suspicious origins and the authorities suspect arson. They estimate that as many as half the fires in the Sydney area have been deliberately set, and have arrested eight people on suspicion or arson. If convicted they face up to 14 years in prison.

Largely due to firefighters’ efforts property damage has been held to a minimum. Preliminary estimates put the losses at around U.S. $ 25 million. At least 150 homes and other buildings have been destroyed. The final toll may well exceed the losses experienced in the disastrous fires of 1994.

NRMA, Australia’s largest insurer, reported that it had already received 430 fire related claims, and according to London’s Financial Times expected losses to top the $28 million it paid out in 1994 when over 200 homes were destroyed, and a number of others damaged.

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