Bushfires Ring Australian Capital: 4 Dead, 400 Homes Lost

January 20, 2003

Two months after the worst bushfires in 80 years caused extensive damage around Sydney, Australia’s largest city, the worst fires in 50 years have been ravaging the country’s capital, Canberra and its suburbs. Four deaths have been reported and at least 400 homes have been destroyed. More fires were burning in the State of Victoria and around Sydney.

Hot dry weather – in the high 90’s- combined with tinder dry forests and brush – the result of several years of drought – have caused the fires to spread rapidly, combining on many fronts into huge blazes, that weary firefighters have so far found almost impossible to control. .

Emergency crews have evacuated around 2500 people from threatened areas, while the fires destroyed power lines, cutting off electricity to large parts of the city and its suburbs. A slight easing in temperatures is predicted for today, which may slow the fires’ advance and give workers time to prepare firebreaks, and prevent further destruction.

Insurance Australia Group, the country’s largest P/C insurer, issued a statement indicating that its losses would mainly be confined to automobile related claims, rather than property coverage. It also stated that recently renegotiated reinsurance coverage had given it policy limits of A$1.5 billion (U.S. $886 million) per event with a retention of A$70 million (U.S. $41.3 million). IAG estimated potential overall losses from the current series of fires at less than U.S.$ 24.8 million.

GIO General Ltd. said it had as yet no figures on overall losses, but had already received reports of 33 total loss claims, estimated at A$ 7 million (U.S.$4.13 million). According to a report from the Australian Financial Review, the Insurance Council of Australia estimated that total property losses could top A$100 million (U.S. $59 million) and insured losses would exceed A$30 million ($17.7 million).

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