Update: Australia’s Firefighters Take Advantage of Cooler Weather to Help Quell Wildfires

By | January 7, 2020

Firefighters are taking advantage of cooler weather to quell southeastern Australia’s wildfires that have killed at least 24 people and prompted stirring messages from stars at the Golden Globes.

Some 130 blazes across New South Wales are being fought by about 2,000 firefighters, the state’s Rural Fire Service said Tuesday. Containment efforts enabled residents in the Bega Valley, one of the worst-hit areas, to return to their homes after searing temperatures and powerful winds over the weekend expanded the area razed to more than 5 million hectares (12.3 million acres) across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia alone.

Some 1,588 homes have been destroyed in New South Wales, including 653 in 2020, the Rural Fire Service said. The Australian government has pledged A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) over two years to assist recovery efforts, focused on repairing infrastructure and boosting mental-health care. Prominent Australian residents, including actor Russell Crowe, called for more action on climate change to mitigate the risks of more devastating infernos.

[Editor’s Note: The Insurance Council of Australia announced on Jan. 7 that since September, insurers have handled close to 9,000 insurance claims from the bushfire regions of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, with many more claims expected. Insurance losses are now estimated at A$700 million (US$481.2 million), the ICA said.]

To date, insurers have received 8985 claims since September from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. Many more claims are expected to be lodged in coming days and weeks. Insurance losses stand at $700 million.

“Make no mistake, the tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate-change based,” Crowe said in a message read at the Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles Monday, where stars including Ellen DeGeneres, Pierce Brosnan and Cate Blanchett used the stage to send heartwarming messages to Australia.

New Zealand-born Crowe, 55, was unable to accept an award for his role in “The Loudest Voice” because he was at his fire-affected farm in New South Wales. “We need to act on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is,” his message read. “That way, we all have a future.”

Tinderbox Conditions

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced criticism for his belated response in pooling national resources to combat the fires. On Monday he again signaled his conservative government won’t toughen policies to combat climate change, which has been blamed for exacerbating a crippling drought that’s helped create tinderbox conditions.

At 4am there are 130 fires still burning across NSW.
Even with the current conditions, including rain in some locations late yesterday, there are around 2,000 firefighters out working hard to protect properties and contain these fires this morning.#NSWRFS #NSWFires pic.twitter.com/7PfoH1WOPX
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) Jan. 6, 2020

In Victoria, where about 200 homes were destroyed, emergency services had 39 public warnings in place as of 10:15 a.m. local time Tuesday advising residents about wildfires or air quality concerns, and detailed 77 specific fire incidents in the state.

Fires continue to burn on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, where two people died in a blaze that engulfed a third of the island, devastating the national park and farmland and severely damaging the luxury Southern Ocean Lodge resort.

Photograph: A Rural Fire Service crew attempts to put out a smoldering pile of railway sleepers. The sleepers measured over 600 degrees two days after the fire front had passed through on Jan. 06, 2020 in Wingello, Australia. Cooler conditions and light rain has provided some relief for firefighters in NSW who continue to battle bushfires across the state. Photo taken by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images.

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