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Fire in NSW leaves more than 2,000 homes damaged or destroyed as authorities brace for bad conditions

By Bellinda Kontominas and Dan Harrison, Tuesday January 7, 2020 - 18:30 EDT
ABC image
This home was destroyed at Wingello, in NSW's Southern Highlands region, at the weekend. - ABC

Milder conditions are providing a short reprieve for exhausted firefighters across NSW and Victoria before dangerous bushfire weather is set to return on Friday.

The relief comes as the RFS confirmed 1,588 homes had been destroyed in NSW this fire season and a total of 653 homes had been damaged.

NSW Police say a man feared missing have now been found.

In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews said at least 200 homes had been destroyed.

Figures in both states are expected to rise as authorities continue to survey firegrounds.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) estimated the damage bill from bushfires across the country since September was $700 million.

There have been 8,985 insurance claims for fire-related damage since then, however that figure is expected to rise significantly.

Overnight rain was a welcome sight across firegrounds, and the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said it would take advantage of the favourable conditions to strengthen containment lines before the mercury rises back into the 40s in some parts of the state.

Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecaster Dean Sgarbossa said cool temperatures would persist until Friday, when heat would rebuild, initially in South Australia before moving into Victoria and NSW.

Temperatures on the coast are expected to hit the mid-to-high 30s while the mercury will soar into the mid-40s in inland areas including Griffith, Hay and Broken Hill.

Mr Sgarbossa said conditions would be similar to Saturday, when at least 60 properties were destroyed in NSW.

Race to put in containment lines before fires flare again

In Victoria, rain has stalled the progress of fires which has burned through more than 1.2 million hectares in the state's east and north-east.

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) state response controller Gavin Freeman told ABC any rain was welcome but significantly more was needed to make any impact on the Victorian fires.

"What it has done over the last 24 hours is calmed and slowed fire behaviour and stopped the forward progress of the fire," he said.

"So, that's a good thing but the flip side of that is, unfortunately, it makes it difficult to get our air assets up because of the cloud cover and the smoke, and it can make fire trails just a little bit slippery for trucks when they get back in there."

Mr Freeman said that the severe "underlying dryness" of the fuel meant that it wouldn't take much to turn it into tinder once again.

Firefighters in East Gippsland are working to put in place 1,500 kilometres of containment lines around the fires before north-westerly and southerly winds and hot temperatures hit on Friday.

Residents covered by large bushfire warning zones across the state's north-east have been told they can go back to their properties for now, but emergency warnings will be issued again if fires flare.

Temperature records were smashed on Saturday when — the hottest it's been in the Sydney Basin since 1939.

Mr Sgarbossa said conditions had been "exceptionally dry and warm" over spring and into December, which had led to the enhanced fire danger, but some rain was on the way.

"We are starting to see moisture build off north-west Western Australia … and that will potentially drive further rainfall and cloud bands over the next month or so."


Around 2,500 personnel will be on fire grounds across the state with crews attempting tactical and strategic backburns to contain fires, strengthen containment lines and bring some fires under control.

, which is not falling in great enough quantities to extinguish the blazes.

Bushfire behaviour expert Thomas Duff told the ABC a small amount of rain could be a nuisance because it results in patchy fires within the control lines.

"Having unburnt areas within your control lines is actually quite dangerous because they can be a source of new fires or spot fires when things dry out again," Dr Duff said.

With the weather heating up again on Friday, this is the real fear.


© ABC 2020

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