Australia counts the cost after ‘catastrophic’ weekend fires

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 6:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 10:38pm

Australia was counting the cost to property and livestock on Monday after firefighters battled weekend blazes in some of the hottest conditions on record.

We know that there are going to be homes lost. We know that there are going to be plenty of other buildings that have been destroyed
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons

At least 19 homes were destroyed in eastern Australia as emergency teams were sent out to assess the damage after a “catastrophic” weekend saw more than 100 fire outbreaks, with 2,500 firefighters deployed and thousands more on standby.

About 80 fires continued to burn Monday, with around a quarter still not contained, said New South Wales (NSW) state Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, as conditions began to cool.

“We know that there are going to be homes lost. We know that there are going to be plenty of other buildings that have been destroyed.

“There is machinery that has been destroyed and ... we are talking about livestock that has been destroyed as well,” he told reporters Monday, without giving numbers.

While bushfires ravage the Australian landscape every year, land and sea temperatures have been pushed up due to climate change, increasing the severity of fire seasons.

A statewide NSW average temperature of 44 degrees Celsius on Saturday set a new February record, while temperatures above 47 were recorded across some parts of the state on Sunday.

Emergency services sent out some 1.5 million phone warnings to residents on the weekend in an effort to prevent fatalities.

Australian firefighters on high alert as extreme heat creates ‘catastrophic conditions’

“To come away with no life lost, or serious injury is just outstanding,” Fitzsimmons said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull praised the work of emergency workers, many of whom are volunteers. “We have had in New South Wales the worst fire conditions on record ... and yet, the fires have been contained, ” he said, adding that 24 were still raging.

Communities suffered “enormous” loss of property and livestock, he added. “[But]it could have been much worse and were it not for those great Australian firefighters, it could have been a truly disastrous weekend in New South Wales with those record temperatures.”