1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Australia: Firefighters race against time before heat wave

January 7, 2020

Firefighters are working around the clock as temperatures and winds are expected to pick up, threatening to ignite a fresh wave of fires. But Australian Open organizers have insisted the tennis tournament will go on.

Fire trucks working to control blazes in Australia
Image: Imago/B. Xuefei

Australian firefighters took advantage of Tuesday's brief drop in temperatures and much-needed rain to control catastrophic wildfires in the southeast of the country, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison prepared to meet with financial bosses to discuss the soaring costs of the crisis.

Firefighters and volunteers strengthened containment lines around almost 200 bushfires and carried out controlled burns before winds and temperatures were anticipated to pick up again by Friday.

"It really is about shoring up protection to limit the damage potential and the outbreak of the fires over the coming days," said New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

While Tuesday's conditions were "much more favorable," he warned that "we are expecting hotter weather to return later in the week."

Dozens of massive wildfires continue to burn in the east of the country. Fire authorities fear that two blazes in the states of New South Wales and Victoria could connect to create a mega blaze.

"We have no prospect of containment on all those fires, but we can use this time," RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers told reporters. "They are trying to secure fire lines where they can, to try and minimize where these fires will burn again when conditions do warm up."

Read more: Oceans play role in Australian bushfires drama, say experts

Soaring costs

Fires have ripped through more than 8.6 million hectares (21.3 million acres) of land across Australia, destroying thousands of homes.

The government has allocated an initial 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion, €1.3 billion) for a national recovery fund to assist fire-hit communities.

On Tuesday, the Insurance Council of Australia increased its estimate for bushfire-related insurance claims to more than 700 million Australian dollars, with claims predicted to leap when more affected areas are accessible.

The commitment could compromise Morrison's election promise to provide Australia's first budget surplus in more than a decade this financial year.

The prime minister is expected to meet with insurance and bank executives to discuss the fire crisis.

"There's going to be a very significant economic impact, but ... we want to get money out into these communities as fast as possible," Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Organizers at the Australian Open tennis Grand Slam said on Tuesday that smoke from the bushfires is unlikely to delay the event.

Read more: Australia: My country is burning

Volunteers killed in action

Dozens of Australian firefighters on Tuesday bid farewell to Andrew O'Dwyer, one of three volunteer firefighters killed in recent fires.

The 36-year-old father was killed along with his colleague Geoffrey Keaton after a burnt tree fell in the path of their firetruck, causing it to roll.

At least 25 people have died in the wildfires.

mvb/rt (AFP, Reuters)

DW sends out a daily selection of hard news and quality feature journalism. Sign up here.