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Dublin: 5 °C Thursday 23 January, 2020
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Australia faces $700 million damage bill as wildfires continue to burn

Hot and dangerous conditions could return late this week.

The remains of a house damaged by a  bushfire around 160 kilometres from Sydney.
The remains of a house damaged by a bushfire around 160 kilometres from Sydney.
Image: Mick Tsikas/AAP/PA Images

THE COST OF the wildfires in Australia is becoming clear, with the damage bill estimated to be reaching $700 million.

Bolstered by cooler weather and rain, firefighters in Australia have raced to shore up defences against the wildfires before the return of hot and dangerous conditions late this week.

The first hints of the financial toll from the disaster began to emerge today.

The Insurance Council of Australia said the estimated damage bill had doubled in two days, with insurance claims reaching $700 million.

That estimate comes one day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was committing an extra $2 billion toward the recovery effort in addition to the tens of millions of dollars that have already been promised.

Morrison’s funding announcement came amid fierce criticism from many Australians who say he has been too slow to respond to the crisis.

He has also faced backlash for downplaying the need for his government to address climate change, which experts say helps supercharge the blazes.

auckland-bushfire-smoke-haze Smoke haze from bushfires in Australia turns the sky orange. Source: Aine Fox/AAP/PA Images

The fires, fuelled by drought and the country’s hottest and driest year on record, have been raging since September – months earlier than is typical for Australia’s annual wildfire season.

So far, the blazes have killed 25 people and destroyed 2,000 homes.

In New South Wales, 130 fires were still burning, around 50 of which were uncontrolled.

The day’s cooler weather, with rain in some regions, was providing thousands of exhausted firefighters a “psychological and emotional” reprieve as they scrambled to strengthen containment lines around the blazes before temperatures rose again, New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

“It really is about shoring up protection to limit the damage potential and the outbreak of these fires over the coming days,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The rain was not heavy enough to extinguish the blazes.

Victoria state Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said today that at least 200 millimeters of rain would need to fall in a short time to snuff out the fires — around 20 times what has fallen across the region in the past day. And officials warned that Australia’s wildfire season — which generally lasts through March — was nowhere near its end.

The rain was also complicating firefighters’ attempts to strategically backburn certain areas and was making the ground slippery for fire trucks.

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