Australia bolsters anti-bushfire efforts as economic, environmental costs mount

Source:Reuters Published: 2020/1/7 18:43:42

Australian firefighters used a break from searing temperatures to strengthen containment lines around huge wildfires burning in the country's southeast on Tuesday, as the financial and environmental costs of the crisis mounted.

Photo taken on Nov. 11, 2019 shows the bushfire in Taree in New South Wales, Australia. The Australian government launched the National Bushfire Recovery Agency which would be funded with an initial two billion Australian dollars (1.38 billion U.S. dollars) on Monday. Photo:Xinhua

The latest official data showed that more than 10.3 million hectares of land across the continent - an area the size of South Korea - has been razed by bushfires in recent weeks.

Imagery posted online from the Himawari 8 Japanese satellite and NASA's Earth Observatory showed plumes of smoke from the fires reaching as far as South America.

Firefighters on the ground were making the most of a few days of cooler temperatures in the southeast of the country to prepare for a forecast return of heat and wind later this week that is expected to spur existing blazes and spark new ones into life.

"We need to remain vigilant," Andrew Crisp, Victoria state's Emergency Management Commissioner told reporters in an afternoon briefing. "We talk about benign conditions, and the fire is suppressed but it is still there. It is still tinder dry."

Australia's bushfire season started earlier than normal this year following a three-year drought that has left much of the country's bushland vulnerable to 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 were ongoing.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the crisis would have a significant economic impact as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg met chief executives of insurers and heads of Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Group. 

Morrison on Monday pledged A$2 billion ($1.39 billion) to a newly created National Bushfire Recovery Agency. 

The Insurance Council of Australia increased its estimate for damages claims from the fires to more than A$700 million on Tuesday, with claims expected to jump further when more fire-hit areas are accessible.


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